From weak, sub-$50/bbl oil prices to competition with U.S. shale and headline-grabbing frontier regions such as offshore Guyana—brimming with recoverable resources—this might not seem an ideal time to sell deepwater assets.
Entanglements with foreign governments have also caused heartburn for Cobalt International Energy Inc. (NYSE: CIE).
Yet Cobalt’s management is confident its positions in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (GoM) and offshore Angola are worthy market contenders, having attracted potential buyers. Shining a spotlight on Cobalt’s North Platte #4 Sidetrack 2 operations in the second-quarter 2017 earnings release didn’t hurt.
The well hit about 122 m (400 ft) of high-quality Lower Wilcox oil pay in May, and a bypass for core operation adjacent to the sidetrack the following month led to the recovery of about 61 m (200 ft) of Lower Wilcox conventional core, Cobalt said this week.
“The well helped confirm more than 2.75 billion barrels of oil equivalent in place in this giant field,” Cobalt CEO Tim Cutt said during the company’s Aug. 8 earnings call.
The company said the reservoir could yield recoveries as high as 30%, although simulation work remains to be done to understand connectivity in what is turning out to be an oil-prone area.
North Platte, located in the Garden Banks area offshore Louisiana, comprises the bulk of the 500 million barrels of oil equivalent net resources that Cobalt is marketing as part of its GoM asset sale. The company also wants to sell interests in its GoM Anchor discovery, though complications with the Shenandoah Field will require more time to gear up a bidding process.
“Given the breadth and volume of recent appraisal data available in the field we are allowing prospective purchasers additional time to evaluate North Platte,” Cutt said, adding Cobalt expects to finalize the bid process in September.
Cobalt’s sales aim to shore up funds during its transition from an oil exploration company to an exploration and development model with sights on future oil production.
The Houston-based company reported a net loss of $186 million for second-quarter 2017, a step in the right direction following a $206 million loss reported in the same period in 2016. In the recent quarter, the company wrote off less on dry holes and impairments.
With drilling activity complete for 2017 at North Platte along with Shenandoah and Anchor, capex is expected to fall for the rest of the year. The company has spent roughly 82%, or $206 million, of its budgets $250 million capex as of June 30.
Cutt said the company has plenty of cash on hand. As of June 30, the company had about $191.6 million in cash and cash equivalents, according to the company’s balance sheet.
Hopes are for its assets sales to bring in more, although commodity prices are low and factors into acquisition decisions. Still, Cobalt won’t sell at at bargain-basement prices.
“If we got to a point where the bids were just too low, we wouldn’t want to sell,” Cutt said.
Cobalt has a 60% stake in North Platte and operatorship. Although Cutt said potential buyers are free to bid on the size of the stake they want, Cobalt aims to sell at least 40% of its interests, which would likely mean relinquishing operatorship. The company would be satisfied with maintaining a 20% working interest.
The Angola sale also remains part of the big picture. Seeking $2 billion from Angola’s state-run Sonangol, Cobalt filed for arbitration in May after the two failed to reach an agreement on license deadline extensions on the deepwater blocks 20 and 21. The Angola sale stalled because the Sonangol would not grant extensions for development.
New prospective buyers are showing interest, Cutt said.
“As we work with these parties the arbitration process is progressing as planned and currently the tribunals are being constituted,” Cutt said. “We recently met with representatives from Sonangol and the Angolan government, and we believe we share a common goal to resolve this amicably.”
However, the situation appears to be taking a backseat to Angola’s upcoming election later in August.
Cobalt’s plans to sell its 20% working interest in the Shenandoah were also muddied earlier this year by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. Cobalt sees the field’s development as economically justified. In May, however, Anadarko took a $435 million write-down on the Shenandoah project.
“The decision of the operator at Shenandoah to slow down the appraisal program had a negative impact on our marketing progress for the field, and as a result, we may not receive offers to purchase our interest until the forward plan for the asset has been clearly described to the market,” Cutt said. “During the quarter, the co-owners had several constructive meetings to identify the most appropriate development plan for the field.”
In other GoM news, Cobalt said the data room for Anchor—another GoM field in which Cobalt holds interest—opened during the second quarter. The company also received approval from the field’s co-owners to add Cobalt’s Anchor South leases to the existing Anchor unit, a move that Cutt said “should lead to an optimized development plan and increased oil recovery from the Anchor units.”
Cobalt management anticipates wrapping up the GoM sale during the third quarter and plans to provide additional updates to the market.
However, uncertainty surrounding potential sales in Angola and the GoM have led to increased workforce attrition, Cutt said, noting the company entered retention agreements with certain officers and employees to ensure necessary management, technical and operational capabilities are retained.
“We’re a small company but I think we can compete with the very best,” Cutt said. “We stay positive, and we’re moving forward.”
Velda Addison can be reached at email@example.com.