IN DEPTH: Amerisur Mulls Dividend Payouts, Ecuador Expansion

(The following article is an example of executive interviews by Alliance News journalists.)

26 Jan 2018, 13:13:05 GMT

LONDON (Alliance News) – Colombia-focused oil explorer Amerisur Resources PLC is targeting possible dividend payments and remains hopeful of expanding into neighbouring Ecuador, according to its Co-Founder & Chairman Giles Clarke.

Clarke, in an interview with Alliance News, said: “Should the oil price stay where it is, and our activities continue, we’re hoping if we have a really strong year we’ll be taking ourselves towards dividend payments, if matters continue.”

Amerisur has not declared a dividend since its stock listing in 2004 and Clarke did not disclose any specific details about a potential payout. It was founded as Amerisur in 2007, when a shell company was bought and renamed.

Clarke, who also founded London-listed firms such as Majestic Wine PLC, Safestore PLC, and Pet City, now part of Pets At Home Group PLC, did stress that payouts would rely on the Brent oil price staying at current levels, with Brent quoted at USD70.48 Friday, as well as a continued increase in production going through 2018.

The company has no debt and is not expected to require additional funds for its 2018 exploration program. At the moment, it is producing around 7,000 barrels of oil a day and, with an oil price at USD70.00 per barrel, it makes around USD47.00 a barrel, a net back described “very attractive” by Clarke.

Clarke, however, added that assumptions cannot be made over the situation in Colombia remaining peaceful, as the country tries to implement the peace deal signed in 2016 with rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC.

As part of the deal, the Colombian government is currently undergoing an eradication of the coca plant, the base crop of cocaine, and some of that activity is going on around Amerisur’s blocks located in Putumayo province.

Farmers receive compensation for their destroyed crop, but last summer issues over the payment of this compensation led to protests, which forced the company to suspend production for 18 days, causing a loss of 109,000 barrels.

Clarke said: “The issue was they did not feel they had received it [the compensation], and the fastest way to get it is to block the roads and cause us and the government problems, as they get royalties paid by us, and that’s the fastest way to reach the government. It was nothing to do with us, just that’s how it is.”

Matters are improving in the country, he said, as proved by the fact Colombia, which was long viewed nervously by investors, is now becoming increasingly attractive to international investment across all sectors, not just in oil and gas.

He said: “There’s been significant oil and gas investment in Colombia. The target overall is a million barrels a day for the country to produce and it’s just short of that, so it’s a pretty big player.

“It would be fair to say there’s been a major boom in Bogota, and an enormous amount of investment.”

Amerisur is also looking at potentially acquiring locations in Ecuador, which neighbours the company’s fields in Putumayo province.

Clarke said: “We’ve been looking very closely at Ecuador. It’s opened up for foreign investment in the oil industry, having had a period of there not being a great deal.

“We’ve been in lengthy negotiations with the government over where we could operate, and we very much hope we can reach some agreements this year in Ecuador, which is a country with a great deal of untapped oil resources.”

Amerisur announced on Monday this week that it has agreed with Ecuadorian state oil company Petroamazonas EP to construct and commission an oil pumping station at Chiritza on the RODA pipeline from Cuyebeno to the SOTE pipeline at Lago Agrio in the country, which will add 4,000 barrels of oil a day to Amerisur’s output.

Construction is expected to be completed by October, and will cost around USD3.7 million, with costs capped at USD4.0 million.

The company in 2016 built the OBA oil pipeline, a major connector between Colombia and Ecuador. At the time, Amerisur said cash operating costs were expected to drop to under USD15.00 a barrel compared to previous costs of USD26.00.

Operating costs at the moment, Clarke said, are around USD16.00 a barrel.

In terms of assets, Amerisur has two producing fields: Platanillo and Mariposa-1, the latter of which is on the CPO-5 block. Mariposa-1 began production in November last year, and Indico-1 on the block is expected to spud in the first half of this year.

Amerisur said at the start of January it had met its 2017 year-end exit rate of production in excess of 7,000 barrels of oil per day. Amerisur’s average daily production for 2017 was 4,862 barrels of oil per day, “broadly” in line with guidance of 5,000 barrels.

Total production for December from the two fields was 215,481 barrels of oil with average daily production at 6,971 barrels of oil per day, and peak daily production 7,061 barrels a day.

Amerisur’s exports through the OBA oil pipeline totalled 184,555 barrels during December. Average daily throughput was 6,152 barrels, with peak daily throughput at 7,045 barrels of oil.

Regarding future production targets, Clarke said: “Our plan in this calendar year [2018] is to drill 12 more wells, and we would hope that they would improve current levels of production.”

“Whether they will, and flow rates remain to be seen, in the case of Indico-1 and Mariposa we expect to be able to increase production. On Indico, if it comes in on a similar level it would be very attractive.”

He added: “In terms of further wells, we haven’t drilled anything in Putumayo-12 or Putumayo-9, but we’re very optimistic on the three wells at pad 2N, and we believe that will give us greater reason to be optimistic when we go to 9 and 12. Targets have been to ensure we could get through the pipeline up to 12,000 barrels a day, and the medium target is to reach 20,000.”

The four Putumayo blocks, numbers 8, 9, 12, and 30, are located in a cluster around the Platanillo field. Clarke said the company hopes to have the 8, 9, and 12 sites, which adjoin Platanillo, all producing with wells feeding into OBA during 2018.

Putumayo-30 is slightly further away, around 55 kilometres north of the Platanillo field.

On Putumayo-8, the company is currently preparing an environmental impact assessment, and Clarke said Amerisur may not need to do any civil works at the site as it could use an existing pad, though this will depend on the local regulator. Two wells are planned for drilling on the block this year.

At Putumayo-9, work has been completed and three wells are also planned at the site for drilling this year, in the third quarter, and seismic data suggests it could share structures with Putumayo-12.

Putumayo-12 also has three wells planned for drilling, in the last quarter of the year, and social consultations are ongoing to apply for an environmental licence at Putumayo-12.

At Putumayo-30, a consultation, known as a ‘consulta previa’, is underway with local people over work at the site, which has 449 million barrels of oil of unrisked prospective resources.

Another Amerisur site is the Coati block, in the south-west of the Putumayo basin. The company is currently undergoing a consulta previa to allow exploration work in the northern part of the block after an original consulta previa was cancelled as it did not involve all certified groups.

Clarke said: “Coati is not top of our agenda for this year, as we are more focused on the blocks which adjoin our Platanillo block.”

Other sites Amerisur has in Colombia are the Terecay, Tacacho, Andaquies, and Mecaya blocks.

Regional mapping is complete at Terecay, though more seismic data is needed to see if trends from Putumayo-13 and Putumayo-14 continue to Terecay. Tacacho has had large structures identified, though work is suspended pending social consultations and security work.

At Andaquies, which is to the north-east of the Putumayo basin, Amerisur has requested an extension of the exploration committent from Colombia’s Agencia Nacional de Hidrocarburos while environmental licensing work is done. Finally, at Mecaya, an environmental licensing application is planned.

Of Tacacho and Terecay, Clarke said: “Both Tacacho and Terecay are very large. At this stage, as the peace process continues, those blocks are becoming more accessible but they need roads. We don’t want to build all the roads in Colombia.

“They’re very much big assets we see with the future, and we’re very comfortable with both. This is our view: Tacacho and Terecay are very significant potential prospective resources, as is Putumayo-30 in the foothills of the Andes a bit further north. We’re gonna look at those in the early part of 2019.”

On Mecaya, he said: “Mecaya is very similar to Putumayo-9, and as we’ve developed that we believe the geological faults in Platanillo and Putumayo-9 go up into Mecaya, but we’re some distance away from doing something in Mecaya at the moment.”

Amerisur also has assets in Paraguay, made up of four blocks: San Pedro; Las Palmas/Coronillo, and Espartillar.

There are no plans in the immediate term for work there, and Clarke said: “We won’t be investing in Paraguay this year. We did drill a well there, it was capped, but did not encounter hydrocarbons of commercial quality.

“We’ve taken the decision to leave Paraguay where it is and carry out more investment in Colombia. We’ve got so many opportunities there, and now we have two producing fields that’s really where we want to concentrate.”

Clarke said there are no plans at looking at any other country in the region, with the focus very much on Colombia and “to a lesser extent” Ecuador.

Amerisur, Clarke said, is the only exploration & production company operating in Colombia and [a oil pipeline in] Ecuador listed in London, with most peers listed in Toronto and operating out of Calgary.

He added: “I’m a rarity, virtually everybody else at Amerisur is actually resident in Bogota and is Colombian. Our chief executive [John Wardle] is the only non-Colombian on the executive team and the entire head office are all Colombians. He’s a Yorkshireman, but he’s been living in Colombia since 1994 when he moved there with BP.”

“He and I have been in this business together for 10 years now, almost 11, and we started Amerisur with GBP15.0 million and nothing else so I think we’ve done quite well so far.”

With a medium term-production target of 20,000 barrels of oil a day, and low production costs per barrel, Clarke said they have a profitable business.

Once they reach the target, Clarke said: “We think we’ll have a very strong balance sheet, a very strong cash flow, and a business well capable of sustaining good dividends for its shareholders.”

By George Collard; georgecollard@alliancenews.com

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