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TAG Oil quits NZ, sells to Tamarind


By Pattrick Smellie and Gavin Evans

Nov. 7 (BusinessDesk) - Taranaki oil and gas producer TAG Oil is selling its New Zealand operations for US$30 million to Tamarind Resources, citing the less friendly environment for the oil and gas sector as one of its reasons for quitting the country.

One of the quiet achievers of the New Zealand petroleum sector, Toronto Stock Exchange-listed TAG has built up a portfolio of onshore oil and gas production after recapitalising the operations of Austral Pacific almost a decade ago.

It had pursued a sale to Tamarind after being approached by another party looking to buy its New Zealand operations, TAG's vice-president of corporate development, Chris Beltgens, told BusinessDesk.

"There wasn't a desire to exit, but there's always a desire to maximise value for shareholders," said Beltgens. The company believed its share price had suffered from investor perception in Canada and the US that the New Zealand government's ban on issuing new offshore oil and gas exploration permits would eventually move onshore too.

While New Zealand was "still quite a bit friendlier than most other places" as a place to do business, that had "changed and not for the better in the last year, year and a half," said Beltgens. "We're slightly immune to that, being onshore, but with the way the winds are blowing, cancelling the offshore block offering, smaller blocks being offered on onshore, it just seems that there's a trend there that we can't ignore."

While TAG might have been comfortable with that risk internally, "being a public company in Canada, with our shareholders based in the Canada, US and internationally, there is an investor perception and that weighs on our share price. People do ask about the potential for oil and gas in New Zealand and we've always said it's one of the bigger contributors to GDP in New Zealand and we don't think it would be prudent for the government ignore that."

The deal announced today sees Kuala Lumpur-based Tamarind, which is already the operator of the Tui offshore oil field, pay US$30 million up-front for TAG's New Zealand assets and gives TAG exposure to future production on a 2.5 percent gross overriding royalty basis.

Tamarind will also make up to US$5 million in event-specific payments based on various milestones, the first of which - the granting of a mining permit for the Supplejack field - has already triggered a US$500,000 additional payment.

TAG's New Zealand assets include the Cheal, Cardiff, Sidewinder, Puka and Waitoriki fields. They are currently producing the equivalent of about 1370 barrels of oil and gas daily, with 75-to-80 percent of its output in crude oil rather than natural gas. Proven and probable reserves are estimated at 4.2 million barrels of oil and gas.

Tamarind country manager Jason Peacock said TAG's lower risk, but smaller scale onshore assets are a good complement to Tamarind's offshore activities.

"Those two knit together quite nicely," he told BusinessDesk.

The purchase will also allow the firm to leverage the expertise of its current 15 New Plymouth staff and the "great bunch of people" TAG have locally.

While this is the first onshore exposure for the broader Tamarind business, Peacock noted that many of the firm's executives have long experience with similar assets in Canada,

Tamarind is also keen to bring its experience of late life assets into play, just as it is doing at Tui.

"Tamarind hasn't purchased these assets to sit on them," Peacock said.

TAG also owns some 275,000 acres of exploration acreage in Queensland, Australia, where Beltgens said the regulatory environment is considerably more welcoming than New Zealand's.

However, at this stage, the company has negligible oil production in Australia, meaning it is cashed up and effectively starting from scratch in Australia.

"Queensland has been much more accommodating whereas we have been finding it more and more challenging dealing with the government in New Zealand," said Beltgens.

TAG would be considering how to apply the capital released by the New Zealand sale, saying its cash assets exceeded its exploration needs in Australia.

Since the beginning of this year, the TAG share price has bounced around from 42 Canadian cents on Jan 1 to as high as 50 cents in early March, but already fallen to a low for the year of 33 cents on April 2, before the government unexpectedly announced its ban on new offshore oil and gas exploration permits a week later. It then recovered to 45 cents by late April and drifted before falling 3.6 percent on the TSX to 40 cents late on Nov. 6, Toronto time, following the disposal announcement.

(BusinessDesk)

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