Outback Australia’s Cooper Basin Set for Wave of Shale Deals

Australia’s Cooper Basin, an outback shale region that’s lured investments from Chevron Corp. and BG Group Plc, is set for a flurry of mergers and acquisitions, according to oil and gas explorer New Standard Energy Ltd.

“There’s another wave of rationalization to happen over the next six to 12 months,” Phil Thick, managing director of the Perth-based energy company, said yesterday in a phone interview. “Everybody is talking in the Cooper Basin.”

Shale explorers in the Cooper Basin are seeking to benefit from a forecast tripling in demand for natural gas on the east coast, driven by more than $60 billion in export projects in Queensland state. Beach Energy Ltd., Senex Energy Ltd. and Drillsearch Energy Ltd. are potential takeover targets, Commonwealth Bank of Australia said in a January report.

New Standard, backed by Houston-based Magnum Hunter Resources Corp., has been talking to potential partners interested in its acreage, Thick said. Its existing partner, Ambassador Oil & Gas Ltd., received a A$42 million ($39 million) takeover offer yesterday from Drillsearch.

New Standard fell 3.5 percent to close at 14 cents in Sydney, while the benchmark index fell 0.1 percent.

The explorer has discussed bringing another company into its acreage as well as potential permit access swaps, Thick said. New Standard in December agreed to acquire 52.5 percent of the exploration license in the Cooper held by Ambassador.

The Hunter

“We’ve had multiple discussions with multiple players, and we will continue to,” he said.

A number of deals have already occurred in the Cooper Basin, including Drillsearch’s 2012 purchase of Acer Energy Ltd. and Beach’s acquisition of Adelaide Energy Ltd.

After Drillsearch’s transactions, the Sydney-based company “is more likely to become the hunted rather than the hunter,” Nik Burns and Cameron Hardie, Melbourne-based oil and gas analysts at UBS AG, wrote in a note yesterday.

New Standard also has assets in the U.S. and reached an agreement with Credit Suisse Group AG to arrange as much as $45 million in debt to fund its drilling plans in the Eagle Ford shale formation, according to a statement today.