HDR hardman resources limited

investing in developing regions such as africa,

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    This story is exclusive to ERN as of 23/6/2003 12:06:27 PM EST.

    As a number of nations begin to turn away from the troubled Middle East region and look for alternative sources of fuel, many companies are investing in developing regions such as Africa, central Asia and China.

    One of the fastest developing areas is the west coast of Africa where a multitude of international players have already invested heavily in offshore projects around countries such as Nigeria, Angola, Mauritania and Cameroon.

    Yet, with the current, never-ending political turmoil and the seemingly permanent social instability of the region, is it any safer than the Middle East?

    John Doran, Roc Oil CEO.
    The most recent events resulted in Mauritania and Liberia both being rocked by attempted coups, with Liberia sitting on the edge of another civil war.

    Angola has been in a protracted civil war since the 70's and Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast have both required international military interventions in the last few years to secure the safety of foreigners from internal conflict.

    The events seem to confirm an image of a continent racked by unstable governments, with rapacious regimes locked in an endless cycles of graft and violence. Yet Australian investors say that the key is to look at the bigger picture.

    "Security is always an issue but I guess it is how you manage it. It is the choice you make when you go into Africa, you have to accept some level of political uncertainty and then work through it," said Roc Oil's John Doran.

    "Although the Mauritania coup made us sit up and take notice, in the end who ever is in power wants the oil so they will not do too much to jeopardise that. Nigeria on the other hand is a special case."

    Nigeria was recently under international scrutiny after a series of events reduced local production by up to 40%. Hundreds of workers were taken hostage on four offshore Transocean rigs for several weeks with military intervention considered as one option to end the siege.

    Persistent threats also forced Shell to take the extraordinary step of placing a full page advertisement in the Nigerian press warning criminal elements that it was aware of plans to attack its Sea Eagle FPSO located in the EA Field.

    Saipem's Scarabeo rig, used to drill the Mauritania discoveries.
    For a period ChevronTexaco was forced to shut down its 140,000 barrels per day of oil production facility and declared force majeure on its oil exports because of ethnic violence in the Niger Delta. The company said the shutdown was a precautionary measure to ensure worker safety.

    TotalFinaElf faced a similar dilemma and shut down its oil production and evacuated workers from oilfields around the Escravos export terminal by helicopter.

    In February 90% of Algeria's oil export workers went on a two day strike leading to the closure of oil refineries and the shutdown of the country's principal oil export terminal, Skikda. Oil and gas makes up more than 90% of Algeria's total export earnings.

    However, Doran said the future is still bright for investors.

    "Most projects are offshore investments and, development-wise, they are almost self-contained with floating production systems etc. So it is really only during times of civil war when it is impossible to get anything done. Otherwise it is still possible to negotiate contracts and get on with the work. Offshore work provides a degree of asset security."

    Subsequently the area is held in high regard as one of the world's next great fuel sources. In 2002, a US Government think-tank estimated that in just over decade, West African oil exports to the US will constitute about a quarter of US oil import requirements, up from the current level of 16%.

    The claim was made amid the escalating turmoil in the Middle East and the imminent American attack on Iraq, prompting fears that US oil supplies would be susceptible to a negative Arab reaction to US military action.

    "Oil trading routes from the Middle East typically have to go through the through the Red Sea and several other strategic bottle necks.

    "Also Middle East oil is increasingly heading towards the far east, therefore the Americans are doing what they can to secure their future oil supplies. The bonus is that West Africa is one straight trip across the Atlantic to get it home," said Fusion Oil general manager Alan Stein.

    Fusion was one of the original partners in the Chinguetti discovery, operated by Woodside Energy, and recently sold its interest in the field.

    The US government is preparing to reopen its embassy in Equatorial Guinea, where oil revenues have boosted GDP by 60% over the last two years. New fields in the region are being aggressively pursued by American companies such as ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco and by smaller firms like Amerada Hess, Ocean and Marathon.

    With 8% of world oil reserves located in the region an estimated $US200bn in revenues will flow into African government treasuries over the next 10 years.

    "The supply network is in secure offshore locations, so from a strategic sense it is relatively more secure as each tanker goes to each individual facility. It is not like one or two pipelines or one tanker bottle neck where a bit of concerted effort could screw up the world's supply," said Stein.

    "The Americans have gone in whole heartedly and Australians are showing an increased interest. Most recently Woodside lead a venture into offshore Kenya, which resulted in four massive holdings."

    The current feeling though, is whether Africa is indeed capable of the stability, cohesiveness and financial accountability needed to support international oil exploration and investment.

    The attempted coup in the north west African nation of Mauritania spooked oil and gas investors in Australia with all of the Australian $1 billion Chinguetti oil project partners reporting falls on the ASX.

    Woodside, Hardman and Roc Oil all dropped on the news with Hardman the worst hit diving by 9% as the market priced increased risk into their development planning for the Chinguetti.

    Woodside said the oil project, Mauritania's first, should go ahead despite the failed coup attempt and that the partners plan to make a final investment decision by the middle of next year. Doran said the partners had no intention of changing their plans and that while the attempted coup was unexpected it had no deterred them form the $1 billion project.

    However, the companies will be reviewing plans to commit to engineering and environmental work later this year as part of the approval process. The same was said for planning of an August appraisal well on Chinguetti and two exploration wells on nearby targets.

    The project has a planned 50,000-75,000 barrel a day operation with first production set for 2006.

    Many Asian countries are also pursuing alternative sources of fuel after years of Middle East unrest but so far the popular area of focus has been central Asia and Russia. The diversity of supply available, the relatively stable political climate in the area and the almost untapped resource potential of the area offer inviting investment opportunities.

    China recently signed a $150 billion oil supply deal over 25 years. Japanese companies are in the middle of locking up numerous supply contracts with the Sakhalin -2 project, which will supply up to 15% of Tokyo's power needs in the next few years.

    Currently only a handful of Australian companies are actively involved in the African region, but without another significant oil discovery around our shores in the next few years more investment and exploration dollars might be heading overseas

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