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BIG PICTURE – Falcon Oil & Gas ready for catalysts in Australia and South Africa

With two potentially significant shale projects moving forward in the coming months Falcon Oil & Gas could well be one to watch for investors.

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Falcon Oil & Gas's (LON:FOG) hotly anticipated shale drilling programme in Australia's Beetaloo basin is due to kick off in the coming months.

Falcon and its new partners are currently working to identify well locations within the Beetaloo basin, in the northern territory.

The Beetaloo is among several 'hot' shale plays outside the United States, where higher cost production has recently been targeted by OPEC's attempts to wrestle away market share.

Independent experts predict there could be some 162 trillion cubic feet of gas and 21bn barrels of oil of resources in the basin, though exploration and development work remains somewhat sparse to date. 

Falcon's nine-well campaign is expected to begin in the second quarter of this year, after the wet season ends.

Current scheduling anticipates three wells will be drilled back-to-back this year. And, it triggers an exciting period for investors who have waited patiently, as Falcon favourably reconstituted its partnerships last year.

Falcon improved its position in the project, after Hess hesitated on prior drill plans, by bringing in new partners; South Africa's Sasol and Australian group Origin, with Origin becoming the operator.

The new arrangements result in Falcon being carried in the extensive nine-well programme, estimated to cost its partners A$165mln and it also received A$20mln in cash back in August.

Now, as drilling approaches attentions are set to focus on this potentially significant programme.

Whilst conditions in the oil and gas market have come under new pressures due to crude prices, it remains in a comparatively strong position versus other small cap peers. 

Falcon has a relatively cashed up balance sheet - it had about US$18mln at the end of the third quarter (September 30) - and it is fully carried on the upcoming programme, due to the improved farm-out deal.

As a result the company believes it is largely protected from the current volatility in the crude market.

Whilst investors look forward to drilling news on Australia, apparent progress with South Africa's shale regulations may also soon provide more catalysts for investors.

Falcon has long held a foothold in South Africa's Karoo basin, though the country's position on shale extraction and fracking has been uncertain for some time.

A broader regulatory upheaval of South Africa's management of natural resource industries - such as mining and conventional petroleum operations - has also added an additional layer in the debate.

Reports this week however point to a resolution sooner rather than later.

South Africa’s government expects to begin issuing shale exploration licences later this year, according to comments ascribed to minister for mineral resources Ngoako Ramatlhodi.

Ramatlhodi, according to Reuters, said shale licences could be issued once consultations with communities and other stakeholders have been completed.

It comes as South African authorities were dealt a blow, by Shell stepping back from its shale plans as the regulatory uncertainty compounded the impact of lower oil prices.

"We have waited inordinately long for licences," Bonang Mohale, Shell’s South Africa chairperson said on a Johannesburg radio station.

Shell is among a group of energy firms that six years ago first moved for shale projects in South Africa’s Karoo basin.

Karoo as a whole is estimated to contain almost 400 trillion cubic feet of potentially recoverable resources.

Falcon has an interest in a vast area of the Karoo, via a Technical Cooperation Permit covering 7.5 million acres in the south west portion of the basin, and a five year exclusive cooperation agreement with Chevron signed in December 2012 to jointly obtain exploration licences.

In November, South Africa’s petroleum agency confirmed Falcon’s application for a shale gas exploration licence is being processed.

So, with two potentially significant projects moving forward in the coming months Falcon Oil & Gas could well be one to watch for investors.

Quick facts: Falcon Oil & Gas Ltd

Price: 12.4 GBX

AIM:FOG
Market: AIM
Market Cap: £121.75 m
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