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Investment at last for Cooper Basin

Three years ago, the South Australian Government unlocked the potential of the Cooper Basin when it removed a monopoly held by Santos Limited for more than 40 years

by relinquishing and opening its Cooper Basin holding for tender.

The historical significance was not lost on many Australian resource companies, including Stuart Petroleum, Oil Company of Australia and Beech Petroleum, all taking out a stake in the basin.

With the land in Cooper, which takes in much of the north eastern portion of South Australia, stretching into Queensland and New South Wales, now taken up and native title issues finally resolved in October last year, real money is expected to be channelled into the area over the next year.

Successful tenders are now committed to push ahead with exploration works to honour their tender commitments with the South Australian Government.

The explorers have committed $45 million in exploration spending over the 11 new licenses, covering 117 wells with 8.7 trillion cubic feet of gas and 138 million barrels of oil discovered in the Cooper Basin.

Now a new tier of companies is expected to piggy-back the projects. Cooper Energy NL is one of the first to successfully move in, reaching farm-in agreements with Stuart Petroleum, Liberty and Beech Petroleum.

The deals give Cooper Energy NL, a Perth-based company put together by business broker Greg Hancock, an interest ranging from 25 per cent to 40 per cent in six blocks in return for part-funding of well drilling and seismic work.

“We’ve had to pay a premium because those guys got in earlier than us, but the advantage for us is all the work that they have done between getting the block to now, in terms of identifying the targets and seismic work.

“In addition, we haven’t had to sit down and wait for two years for native title to clear and all those kinds of issues,” Mr Hancock said.

With the farm-in deals now signed away and the timing seemingly right, Mr Hancock and fellow directors Tony Wright, Robert Kirtlan and Chris Porter hope to capture the imagination of institutional and retail investors with a $7.5 million float of the company, although Cooper Energy hopes up to $10 million will be raised.

Mr Hancock has been selling the project to institutions and brokers before an expected Tolhurst Noall underwritten float on February 28.

If successful, the 20-plus seed capitalists and founders, which have put $400,000 into the project till, now stand to maintain between 20 and 30 per cent of the floated entity, depending on the amount raised.

In the event of failure the company’s farm-in deals with the existing explorers collapses.

But the prospects that the money will be raised appear strong, given the potential success rate. Mr Hancock said one in 2.5 wildcat gas wells and one in six wildcat oil wells in the basin were successful.

Already the explorers are making headway. Stuart Petroleum operator of the Stuart Petroleum/Beach joint venture plans to spud the Acrasia –

1 wildcat oil well on February 15, which will be the first drilled in the South Australian sector of the Cooper Basin. Stuart plans to drill up to three wells in a $3.5 million program over the next six months.

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