Cloud over Moroccan commitment

THERE are indications of tensions in Pura Vida Energy's joint venture in Morocco with Freeport-McMoran, with the junior this morning confirming that it has written to its partner reserving its rights in relation to the second, as-yet undrilled farm-in well.
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Haydn Black

Reporter

Freeport entered the JV in 2013 with the purchase of NYSE-listed Plains Exploration & Production Company for $US16.3 billion, taking on a hefty $US215 million two well farm-in commitment, but after drilling the deep MZ-1 well last year, yet another duster in Moroccan waters, Freeport has been re-thinking its overall investment in oil and gas.

After MZ-1's failure, Freeport cancelled its chartered drillship for the second well saying it expected to see much lower drilling costs, but it is still on the hook to spud the second well by September 2016.

This morning Pura Vida's managing director Damon Neaves announced the company was going into a trading halt, saying the junior was in discussions with the big American concern "as to how this matter may be progressed or resolved".

Pura Vida has previously said the JV was drill completing post-well evaluation studies.

That work should be finished by the end of March.

Freeport's decision to play in the oil and gas space may have seemed like a great idea in an era of $US100/barrel oil but it has not proven to be the cash generator the diversified mining house had hoped, and it is considering spinning out the asset, or at least a portion of it, to tackle its debt.

Freeport, which is also a major copper producer - a metal that's not performing as bad as some in a bear market - posted a $US4.1 billion loss for the December quarter and $12.2 billion for the whole of 2015, and it is looking to shore up its fiscal position.

CEO Richard Adkerson said recently that the company's most immediate goal is balance sheet restoration.

"Our high-quality asset base provides opportunities for significant debt reduction while retaining a substantial business with attractive low-cost, long-lived reserves and resources that will enable our shareholders to benefit from improved conditions in the future," he said.

"We achieved several important operational milestones during the fourth quarter while taking aggressive actions to adjust our plans in response to the decline in prices for our primary products."

The company spent around $2.95 billion on its US oil and gas business last year, and dropped around $119 million in Morocco, its sole international asset.

A second well in Morocco is unlikely to be as costly, however after three years of mostly disappointing exploration drilling, Freeport is likely to be more interested in focusing in the lower-risk Gulf of Mexico

Kosmos Energy and Cairn Energy have proven the potential of the Atlantic Margin over the past year, but Morocco drilling has struggled to benefit from that nearology.

Recently Cairn relinquished the Foum Draa and Juby Maritime permits in Morocco following disappointing drilling results.

Today's trading halt is, however, not directly associated with concerns over Freeport's commitments, rather a capital raising for the African-focused junior.

Pura Vida had $4.9 million in cash at the end of the last quarter.

Its other interest are Gabon (100%), where it is hoping to conclude a farm-out, while it is progressing seismic interpretation in its Ambilobe Block, offshore Madagascar (50%) with Sterling Energy.

Pura Vida has been contacted for comment.

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