Sir Emeka Offor, K.C., owns 34.98 percent of ERHC, the Dow Jones News Service reported this morning. Earlier reports suggested he owned more than 50 percent. Offor's holdings are critical in a buyout scenario, Joe Shea writes.
Photo: Courtesy of Chrome Energy Services.
In a note to this reporter, Scott said:
Thanks Joe - sorry I wasn't in contact last week but I was taking a much-needed break. I've just put out the relevant correction to the shareholdings and the sentence incorrectly stating the "sole assets" - forgetting the EEZ holdings of course.
Thanks very much for your feedback, glad you liked it. Feedback seems to be mostly positive!
Offor's holdings are critical in a buyout scenario, and the reduced percentage is likely to attract more interest in the company from suitors wanting to acquire its vast holdings in the Gulf of Guinea. Those include rights in six blocks of the Nigeria-Sao Tome Joint Development Zone and two 100 percent interests in two blocks of Sao Tome's Exclusive Economic Zone, as well as two more 15 percent entitlements in other blocks..
Offor, already a billionaire as measured in Nigeria's currency, the Naira, may become a U.S. Dollar multibillionaire if - as predicted here - an offer for the company at $6 per share materializes in March.
The article also removed a few words that made it appear the company's assets were limited to properties in the JDZ. The EEZ rights could also be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, depending on discoveries over the next few years. It is unclear when those blocks may be awarded, but it appears they will follow the auction of similar blocks in the Nigerian Exclusive Economic Zone.
Trading was moderate to heavy in New York this morning after the issue rose 11 percent on the German bourse overnight. ERHC traded two cents higher in early trade, and 35,000 shares were placed in pre-market orders. About 500,000 shares traded by 11:20am EST.
Here is the corrected Dow Jones article released this morning:
REPEAT & CORRECT : ERHC Eyes Nigeria Sao Tome Jackpot
Jan 31 2005
By Norval Scott
Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES
LONDON (Dow Jones)--A little-known company with no history of producing crude could be on the brink of becoming a significant player in the West African oil game.
Houston-based Environmental Remediation Holding Corp. (ERHC) holds preferential rights in a maritime enclave jointly operated by Nigeria and Sao Tome & Principe, known as the Joint Development Zone. Now the tiny company is set to gain equity in five blocks when the JDZ's second licensing round is finalized, possibly this month or in February.
"We're due our day in the limelight," said Phil Nugent, a Houston-based oil and gas consultant and longtime ERHC shareholder. "At some time the dust will settle and ERHC will be recognized as a viable entity in one of the most prospective oil and gas regions in the world."
West Africa's importance for the global oil market is growing. The U.S., the world's largest consumer, obtains around 12% of its crude from the region, and the U.S. government sees that figure rising to 20% in 2010 and 25% by 2015. With estimates of the JDZ's possible crude reserves ranging from 6 billion to 14 billion barrels, ERHC could eventually become an important supplier of crude to the U.S.
For that to happen, however, ERHC first needs the licensing round process to be concluded - which it has been hoping for since April 2003, when the JDZ's first-ever round was launched. ERHC needs the tender to be concluded, and blocks awarded, so that its preferential rights become concrete equity.
That should transform the fortunes of the company, whose rights are the legacy of a deal struck with Sao Tome in 1997.
ERHC is currently listed on NASDAQ's OTC Bulletin Board and has a market capitalization of $323.63 million. According to its last 10-k filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the company has no revenue and is over $9 million in debt to its parent company, Chrome Energy. ERHC chairman and owner of Chrome Energy, Nigerian Emeka Offor, controls 34.98% of ERHC according to the 10-k filing. Given the tiny stature of the company, it has often been seen as little more than a real-estate holding vehicle in the JDZ.
However, the company may even grab a JDZ operatorship; it has made joint bids with established U.S. companies Devon Energy Corp. (DVN) and Pioneer Natural Resources Co. (PXD) for Block 2 and Block 3 in the tender, and also with Noble Energy Inc. (NBL) in Block 4.
"When the awards...in the current JDZ bid round are finalized, it will be a significant step forward," ERHC Chief Executive Ali Memon told Dow Jones Newswires.
However, the conclusion of the licensing process has been continually delayed, leading to some disquiet among shareholders and keeping ERHC's stock price range-bound near the 50 cent mark.
"(We) are seeing some frustration in the lengthy process we've been through...and the slowness of awards has taken its toll," said Greg Sparks, another ERHC shareholder.
However, there is still a sizable core of investors that has stuck with the company. They've endured a painful waiting game, not least in 2001, when a dispute with Sao Tome meant that ERHC almost lost its JDZ rights altogether. Eventually, Offor, the company's new owner, was able to re-negotiate the contracts, thus keeping hold of the firm's only assets.
ERHC's patience may soon be rewarded. In October 2004, the Joint Development Authority, which governs the JDZ, closed the first licensing round, only awarding one block. It then re-offered five blocks in a month-long tender that closed Dec. 15, and these are expected to be awarded in January or February, although there may be further delays. ERHC has preferential rights of between 15% and 30% in all five blocks.
Edmund Daukoru, Energy Adviser to the Nigerian President, told the News Agency of Nigeria earlier this month that he believes the awards would be made by the end of January.
Some shareholders reckon that the completion of the licensing process could have a dramatic impact on the value of the company. "Once the awards are announced and our rights validated, we should see the share price multiplying," said Nugent.
Should ERHC's rights be validated through the block awards, the company's next move is unclear. Selling off its stakes to the highest bidder is one option, said Olly Owen, African analyst with U.S.-based economic consultancy Global Insight.
"Overall, the new crop of privately controlled domestic oil companies in Nigeria don't seem to be in the game for the long haul," Owen said.
"That's because slow-developing projects are seen as too high risk, due to the uncertain regional environment for investment. If making its outlay back appears too tortuous and tricky a process, ERHC will probably sell up," he added.
However, shareholders say that ERHC's joint bids for an operatorship in Blocks 2, 3 and 4 mean the company is in the oil game for good.
"I think that for ERHC, this isn't about making a quick buck," said shareholder Nugent. "It's about becoming a viable oil and gas entity, and about building on these holdings."
And ERHC is now looking a more believable prospect as an active petroleum company, says Antony Goldman, Africa Analyst with London-based consultancy Clearwater Research Services.
"ERHC has been trying to strengthen its oil credentials. It's been pretty smart at pulling in Noble and Pioneer as co-bidders, and it's also brought in Ali Memon, a genuine oil man, as president, which gives them more credibility," he said.
"Its position in this round looks far better than a year before, when it just appeared to be a real-estate vehicle. Now ERHC could expedite the extraction of oil in the JDZ," Goldman added.
However, the company must overcome some huge hurdles - namely its lack of revenue and debt load - before achieving those ambitions. But these hurdles shouldn't prevent the company from meeting its post-award obligations, shareholders say.
"It's not hard to structure a deal whereby a company's partners can carry it until first oil production," shareholder Nugent said. "I think that will happen with ERHC."
ERHC's Memon also indicated that such an avenue may be open. "It is our intention to form relationships with entities to maximize the value of our assets," he told Dow Jones Newswires. He added that the company "would be participating in each block according to our interest."
"We hope that a successful exploration program will ultimately result in oil production," he said, although he added the caveat that "there are technical and commercial risks associated with the exploration, development and production of hydrocarbons."
It's true that gaining equity and funding is only half the battle for ERHC. The company and its future partners will still have to find oil and gas in the JDZ if it is to really hit the jackpot. But the region does have a high chance of being prospective, said Graham Kellas, project manager with Edinburgh-based energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie.
"The level of bids seen...suggest that there are sizable prospects in the JDZ," he said. In the second licensing round, for instance, 23 companies made 26 bids, with the top signature bonus offered being ECL International's $175 million for Block 4.
"One of the debates in terms of the geology is whether there are single large structures or smaller multiple areas, but there's no question that there are likely to be oil-prone blocks in the region," he said.
ERHC shareholders have little doubt that they could be involved with something special.
"Our minnow is swimming with the sharks," said shareholder Sparks. "It's maneuvered itself to win (in an area where) the seismic data indicates world-class oil reserves. Current ERHC investors are in on the bottom floor of a skyscraper."
Company Web site: http://www.erhc.com
(In an item timed around 1528 GMT Friday Jan. 21 and 0551 GMT Monday Jan 24, a description of ERHC's assets was incomplete and Emeka Offor's beneficial ownership was incorrect).
-By Norval Scott, Dow Jones Newswires; +44-20-7842-9344;