Is This Today's Biggest Oil Opportunity?

Published in Investing on 31 May 2012

Kurdistan has billions of barrels of easy oil, but politicians are fighting over export licences.

More than 100,000bn cubic feet of gas and around 45bn barrels of oil, virtually untapped.

It may sound too good to be true, but it isn't -- as long as the politics can be sorted out.

Where's Kurdistan?

These massive, untapped oil and gas resources are in Kurdistan, a large, semi-autonomous region of Northern Iraq.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) largely runs affairs in the region and, in recent years, independent oil explorers have flocked there, attracted by its huge, untapped reserves.

Exports not allowed

Until recently, Western oil companies have been allowed to export the oil they have been producing, thus providing tax revenues and much needed development funds for the oil companies.

However, in April, exports were suspended due to a dispute over payments between the KRG and the Iraqi central government.

Tensions rose another notch just over a week ago, when the KRG and the Turkish government announced a joint plan to build a pipeline to export oil directly from Kurdistan to Turkey, bypassing the main Iraqi export pipelines.

The Iraqi government is unhappy about the deal and claims that it breaches oil and gas laws in the country, something the Kurds dispute.

Ready to rock

Political risk is probably the main reason that most of the oil supermajors -- companies like FTSE 100 stalwarts Royal Dutch Shell (LSE: RDSB) and BP (LSE: BP) -- have avoided Kurdistan so far. Only ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM.US) has chosen to take the plunge, buying six exploration blocks in the region last year.

Exploration so far has been carried out by independent oil companies, three of whom are London-listed and have made significant finds.

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Gulf Keystone Petroleum

I took a look at Gulf Keystone Petroleum (LSE: GKP) earlier this week, following the publication of its annual results. It is probably the most successful of the Kurdistan oil explorers, thanks to its huge Shaikan field, which contains around 8bn barrels of oil and is almost ready for full development.

Although GKP is well funded and might be able to scale production up to 100,000 barrels per day (bopd) using its own resources, full field development -- estimated to be worth 400,000 bopd -- will require bigger financial firepower, of the kind that only an oil major can provide.

Genel Energy

Following Tony Hayward's departure from BP, he raised $2bn from investors when he engineered the reverse takeover of Turkish independent oil explorer Genel Energy (LSE: GENL), propelling it into a listing on the LSE. At the time, Hayward explained his enthusiasm for Kurdistan, saying: "Arguably, it is the last big onshore 'easy' oil province available for exploration by private companies anywhere in the world."

Genel is currently producing 45,000 bopd for the Iraqi domestic market and says that further expansion is prevented by the current export embargo. However, by 2014 it expects to have increased production capacity to 200,000 bopd at its Taq Taq field and to 100,000 bopd at its Tawke field.

Genel's current operations are broadly cashflow neutral, with production revenue funding exploration. The company's $1.8bn net cash has remained largely untouched over the last year and equates to 83% of its current market cap, meaning that Genel's considerable oil reserves are virtually included for free in its share price.

Hayward's ambition is to create a large, independent exploration and production company like Tullow Oil (LSE: TLW). I think he might just pull it off.

Incidentally, Tullow Oil has been one of the FTSE's star performers over the last 10 years. If you'd like to find out about some of the others, then I would recommend this special free report, Ten Steps To Making A Million In The Market.

Heritage Oil

Heritage Oil (LSE: HOIL) has been something of an outlier in the Kurdistan story, but its Miran block is shaping up to be a sizeable gas asset that will probably deliver substantial quantities of oil, as well.

Heritage is already in talks with the Kurdish and Turkish authorities over plans to sell the gas to domestic and export markets so, as with Gulf Keystone and Genel, its shares look very cheap if you assume that the export issues will be resolved.

There's always a risk

The main reason that shares in all three of these companies look good value at present is that political risk remains. My belief is the export issues will be resolved, allowing both governments and companies to generate massive amounts of wealth for themselves.

But there's always the risk that a worst-case scenario will emerge and Iraq will plunge into civil war -- or, more realistically, that these problems will take much longer than expected to resolve.

For me, the risk is reflected in the share prices of these companies -- and it’s a risk worth taking, in moderation. But you'll have to make your own decision.

Oils, Pharmaceuticals, Banks, Telecoms -- just where should you invest today? "Top Sectors Of 2012" is the Motley Fool's latest guide to help Britain invest. Better. The report is free.

Further investment opportunities:

> Roland owns shares in Genel Energy and Royal Dutch Shell but does not own any of the other shares mentioned in this article.

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Comments

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Cisk999 31 May 2012 , 12:39pm

Roland, you omitted to mention LSE-listed Afren, who spent several hundred million dollars last year on licences in Kurdistan.

It's not pure-play Kurdistan - but then neither does it have all its eggs in one basket.

sopavest 31 May 2012 , 1:45pm

@Cisk999

Thanks for highlighting Afren, I was a bit short of space and left them out as their activities in Kurdistan are not as far advanced as GKP/Genel and to a lesser extent HOIL.

However, you're right -- and they did have a decent oil find in April this year, too.

Afren is certainly an attractive company and the combination of Africa and Kurdistan exposure is a tempting package!

Regards,

Roland (article author)

Cisk999 31 May 2012 , 6:00pm

Thanks Roland - you're right they are some way behind the other companies in the article - although I'm sure one day they will catch up. As you say would suit an investor looking for exposure to the region with a little less risk...

OldJock 01 Jun 2012 , 12:22am

Roland, on a similar note... you might wish to look at Western Zagros Resources (CVE:WZR)... with operatorship in one block and a working interest in another block of Kurdistan... ATB, Old Jock

sopavest 01 Jun 2012 , 6:39am

@OldJock

I did think about WZR, especially as there is talk that they might soon move to a London listing. But they haven't yet, and unfortunately there is only so much space...

Cheers, Roland (article author)

OldJock 05 Jun 2012 , 12:20am

@sopavest

I guessed as much, but feel that WZR's apparently low valuation should be taken into consideration when discussing GKP, Genel, Afren and others working in the same area...

then you don't have to include it in your article and those that are interested can DTOR...

ATB,

Old Jock

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