Friday, September 8, 2017

Selling off Sarawak's Oil & Gas assets - Myth or Reality? How Does Sarawak Benefit?


Selling off Sarawak’s Oil & Gas Assets – Myth or Reality? How does Sarawak Benefit?

This paper reviews the recent report on Petronas seeking to sell a stake in the SK316 PSC and questions what Sarawak is or should be doing about it.

The news

Reuters on 20th Feb 2017 reported in Singapore that Petronas is aiming to sell its 49% stake in the SK316 offshore gas block in Malaysia’s Sarawak for up to $1 billion seeking to raise cash and cut development costs. According to its sources, Petronas is said to be working with an investment bank on the stake sale and the process was kicked off in February 2017.[1]

On 21st Feb 2017, The Star reported that Datuk Wan Zulkiflee Wan Ariffin, Petronas President and CEO denied the report that it was considering selling its stake in the SK316 offshore gas block in Sarawak to raise cash, adding that Petronas had a cash balance of RM130bil and that there was no need to sell to get money.[2]

Block SK316, located approximately 180 km North of Bintulu, Sarawak, is operated by Petronas and contains a number of gas fields including the NC3 field which feeds Malaysia's liquefied natural gas (LNG) export project, known as MLNG Train 9.

In 2011 & 2012, Petronas reported that Kasawari-1 and NC8SW-1 were the latest wells drilled in Block SK316 and were significant gas discoveries. The Kasawari field had over five trillion standard cubic feet (TSCF) with an estimated recoverable hydrocarbon resource of just over three TSCF, making it one of the largest non-associated gas fields in Malaysia. The recoverable resource for the NC8SW field is estimated at more than 450 billion standard cubic feet of gas.

In late 2015, Petronas called off the tender for the Kasawari field development, a contract worth over US$ 1 billion that had been offered earlier. The first gas for Kasawari was initially targeted for late 2018, which is now delayed.

According to the same Reuters’ sources, the stake to be sold is expected to include a combination of the producing NC3 gas field, the potential development of the Kasawari field and other exploration acreages in the block. The funds raised could also contribute to the future development of the Kasawari field.

The reality

As far as reported in the public domain, Block SK316 is still 100% held by Petronas Carigali. While in the early 2011/12, Petronas was optimistic that it could go on its own with the development of its gas discoveries in SK316 including the over US$ 1 billion required for the Kasawari development. Things started to turn south in 2015, and with the falling oil prices and dwindling cash flows added to both the increasingly technical and project development challenges for Kasawari, Petronas decided to put the project on hold.

Fast forward to 2017, where many believe that the Oil & Gas industry has reached its bottom and is now back on the upward trend, with time being right for Oil & Gas asset owners to evaluate their portfolio of assets in order to extract their maximum value. In this case, Petronas should not be exempted in assessing its portfolio of assets and identifying those that could be ‘flipped’ wholly or partially in return for cash or asset swaps or both. In the case of the SK316 block, where there exist producing fields, development projects and exploration options, selling a minority stake or farming out part of the PSC to others appears indeed to be an interesting option. 

However, as SK316 is a gas PSC and having the NC3 field already feeding LNG Train 9, added with the technical challenges of the Kasawari filed, it is expected that there will be limited candidates for the minority stake in SK316. Nevertheless, since NC3 is already producing, it becomes an interesting option for the existing partners in LNG Train 9 in the likes of JX Nippon Oil & Energy or parties with downstream interest in Bintulu to consider the upstream options.

Another interesting aspect for the minority stake in SK316 is that as Petronas will continue to be the operator, the stake is easily ‘bankable’ as the buyer can be a non-technical party, opening the door for pure financial investors. This is, however, subject to Petronas’ approval.

The possibilities

Putting aside the argument of whether Petronas is selling off Sarawak’s Oil & Gas resources or whether it has the right to do so by seeking investments for a minority stake in SK316, there indeed exists the potential for the State of Sarawak (or through one of its vehicles) to consider having the minority stake in the upstream PSC.

This has to be done through proper Oil & Gas due diligence process including examination of both technical and financial aspects of the PSC.

However, the more intriguing question remains whether the State of Sarawak is content to continue to be mere spectator, or wants to become an active participant in the development of the Oil & Gas resources of Sarawak.

“Mun minyak ngan gas ya di Semenanjung nun sik aku ambik peduli. Tapi mun di Sarawak aku ngambik peduli” Allahyarham Tok Nan.

The present Chief Minister Datuk Amar Abang Johari Tun Openg says Sarawakians must decide their own destiny, not to have somebody else deciding for them.

Thus, the State Government of the day must create policies that are Sarawak-centric and focused on the immediate and strategic needs of the State, he said.

“So we are left in a situation where we have oil and gas and cannot fully enjoy the benefit of having oil and gas. This cannot be…“

He said it is therefore of strategic importance that Sarawak should try to use as much as possible of its energy resources for its own economic development and industrialization.

The ‘recycled’ news about Petronas’ intent to divest 49% of its stake in SK316 offshore Sarawak is making the rounds again in the local news recently. It was first reported in February 2017 and was quickly denied by Petronas. In April, the Reuters report again resurfaced.

To the Oil & Gas industry observers, the news is a positive one as it improves the outlook delayed Kasawari gas project. BMI Research was upbeat on the potential sale of equity as the bulk of the funds generated from the stake sale in the SK316 offshore gas block is expected to be used to develop the Kasawari field. 

The Kasawari gas project, which is part of SK316, is a deepwater, sour gas development estimated to hold about 3.2 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas resources.

“Despite promising below-ground prospects, development has progressed slowly due to the field’s deepwater, high-cost structure, and the relative inexperience of domestic engineering firms involving carbon dioxide removal. Potential integration of a foreign partner could dilute the project’s cost burden. Any future gas output from Kasawari will likely be designated for exports, given Malaysia’s comfortable surplus in gas,” the research house said in a statement.

We believe that Petronas’ search for potential foreign partner in the project is not unreasonable.

Saya Peduli

However, the news of the proposed sale is indeed a sour note for Sarawakians. Echoing the words of the late Tok Nan, any proposed ‘sale’ of Sarawak Oil & Gas assets by the party that was supposed to have the ‘vested interest’ of Sarawak in mind without the apparent knowledge of the government and people of Sarawak shows the ‘tidak peduli’ attitude of the parties involved.

Nevertheless, instead of dwelling in the negatives, SPG would like to propose that in the period where devolution of authorities and negotiations on Oil & Gas rights are taking place between the State and Federal government, a Joint Oil & Gas Development Authority (JOGDA) be created comprising the Federal government, the State government and Petronas where all strategic matters concerning Sarawak’s Oil & Gas matters, including new PSC awards, sale or transfer of interests, are deliberated.

SPG will lend its expertise to assist and support the government of Sarawak in the setting up of JOGDA in the spirit of ‘Saya Peduli’ in maximizing Sarawak’s socio-economic benefit and safeguarding its rights in the O&G industry for its present and future generations.

Until and unless Sarawak takes decisive action, we remain at the mercy of others.

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