Texas veteran sees beauty of oil's plummet

SITTING on his tranquil secluded ranch in the heart of a national forest to Houston's north with his 13-strong "canine advisory board", third generation Texas oil man Brad Simmons was not plucked out of retirement lightly, but believes there's no better time to be building an oil company like his new undertaking, Titan Energy.
Texas veteran sees beauty of oil's plummet Texas veteran sees beauty of oil's plummet Texas veteran sees beauty of oil's plummet Texas veteran sees beauty of oil's plummet Texas veteran sees beauty of oil's plummet

Simmons retired in November 2013 having built Maverick Drilling & Exploration from a sub-$10 million market capitalisation, to the top performing stock on the ASX 200 with a market cap of $600 million in 2012.

However, an impassioned plea from Paul Garner and his Titan Perth crew at the ranch changed his retirement plans significantly.

After his "crack young team" worked 20-hour days for 45 days doing forensic due diligence on Titan's Allen Dome project, Simmons knew he couldn't resist.

So with Garner holding the fort in Perth, the Texas oil veteran took the operational reigns as CEO and he's not holding back in this era of depressed oil prices.

He believes there's "no better time" to be building an oil company than right now and is eagerly awaiting the great purge that is to come.

"A lot of folks are wringing their hands and crawling under their rocks. In my view, this shake-out is going to take a lot of shoe salesman back out of the oil business and that's a good thing," Simmons told Energy News from his Texas ranch.

He has no time for unconventionals, which give a 70-80% decline after "a lot of puff and fluff at the front", but need twice as many wells drilled the next time around to make up for how much decline is being faced - "then you're like a rat on a wheel".

"That's not our business. We're looking at good, long-lived reservoirs and reserves. We happen to be on a salt dome that's almost 80% undeveloped and that's a rarity on the Gulf coast," Simmons said.

"While others are despairing, we're out there having a hell of a good time building a great company - and I've been here before. It's the right time to crank up the turbines.

"We're going to knock the tar out of some great acquisitions while everybody's thinking the sky is falling.

"There's an old country saying that ‘you buy straw hats in the winter', which is what we're doing. While the sheep are running to the unconventionals, we're running in the other direction."

In the coming shake-out, he said, the key is not so much who's buying but who's selling on unconventionals, with apparently "oil and expertise savvy, smarter people" doing the selling.

"You'll see a lot of consolidation in the industry," he said. "The weak ones will get shaken out and that's a good thing because for the shareholders you have the rock-solid, long-term investors that build and increase their positions in times like these."

Such was the case in Titan's $1.32 million placement earlier this month, including industry peers in the US. Simmons said everyone involved in Titan owns shares in the company, right down to the drilling contractors, which he said was a rarity in the US oil space.

It's a trend that has been emerging over the past year in the mining space with "drilling for equity" finding a place in an otherwise tight market with investors sick of poor returns.

Titan is implementing a work-over program on old well bores in the field which has thus far been very successful. The company has a substantial amount of both developmental and exploratory drilling to do around the dome, where Simmons believes the returns could be "quite dramatic".

The junior has in the range of 60-80 wells to drill on the hill just for openers and, while it does not have the money to drill all of them, Simmons is building the company one well at a time, "at a speed we can afford".

"I retired November last year and the board of Titan astounded me as to their tenacity, spent a couple of years making a run at it, had some bad luck and made some less than stellar choices, but they turned around and recovered from that," he said.

Simmons had his eye on Allen Dome when at Maverick, but Titan snapped it up "before we could blink", he said. Now he's building Titan in a similar way - forging its destiny by divesting assets it does not control.

Titan got full investment back from its Holcomb Ranch sale, which is impressive in the current market. In addition, it took a well that was doing 16 barrels a day and 120bbl of water and, with a bit of money and some great expertise on the ground, moved it to a well flowing 149bpd and no water.

The company is preparing for a 3-5 well developmental drilling program in Q1 2015. This comes on the heels of a 3-5-well work-over program on previously drilled well bores that had untested zones, as nothing had been done on the field for about 20 years prior to Titan buying it.

"There is no other oil company on the ASX in the energy sector to run than Titan," the 30-year oil veteran said.

"We're the smallest tadpole in the pond, but that leaves room for a lot of opportunity and it doesn't take much of a flicker on the kinds of properties we're developing to dramatically change a company with a small market cap."