ERHC Energy Inc. Chief Operating Officer Peter Ntephe recently sat down for an interview regarding issues related to the Company’s growth strategy.
Q: Tell us what ERHC does.
Peter Ntephe, chief operating officer, ERHC Energy Inc.: ERHC has assets in West Africa. The company is an energy investment company. It trades on the OTC Bulletin Board. Our headquarters are in Houston, Texas. Our basic assets right now are in oil and gas in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of central West Africa. There are two areas in the Gulf of Guinea in which we have assets: the Nigeria and Sao Tome & Principe Joint Development Zone (JDZ) and the Sao Tome & Principe Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
Our current focus is on the JDZ, which is divided into nine Blocks. ERHC has interests in six of the Blocks. In JDZ Blocks 2, 3 and 4, we are working with technical partners. In Block 2 we are working with Sinopec (NYSE: SNP) and the Sinopec/ERHC consortium is the operator of the Block. In Block 3, we are working with Sinopec and Addax Petroleum (TSX: AXC and LSE: AXC), but we are not the operator. Anadarko is the operator of JDZ Block 3. In JDZ Block 4, we are working with Addax and the Addax/ERHC consortium is the operator.
ERHC also has interests in JDZ Blocks 5, 6 and 9. In JDZ Blocks 5 and 6, In JDZ Blocks 5 and 6, rights have been awarded but production sharing contracts have not yet been signed. As for JDZ Block 9, ERHC has preferential rights that have been exercised, but the bidding for the Block has not yet occurred. Whenever the rest of the interests are awarded, ERHC’s rights kick in.
Q: How big is the company?
PN: Our market capitalization is about $360 million.
Q: How far away do you think oil is?
PN: JDZ Blocks 2, 3 and 4 are the nearest to exploratory drilling. We are expecting that drilling will start later this year or at some point next year. Once we start drilling, we expect that first oil will be at least three years away. So if we take 2009 as a benchmark date, we are talking about first oil sometime in 2012 or so.
Q: Your stated strategy is to form or acquire a subsidiary of ERHC that does not involve any of the Gulf of Guinea assets. How would that fit into your overall strategy?
PN: We regard the Gulf of Guinea assets as the jewel in our crown. We are confident of the massive revenue potential of our assets in the Gulf of Guinea. However, we also believe that we must balance our portfolio. Therefore, we are looking for companies that have revenue producing assets or we will form a subsidiary to purchase revenue producing assets directly. We don’t want to mix our Gulf of Guinea assets with these new assets because doing so could undermine our efforts to achieve greater diversification and mitigate risk.
Q: And ERHC would own this other company – whole or in part?
PN: Yes. We would acquire assets under a separate subsidiary. All the assets will belong to ERHC, but we plan to keep them under separate distinct structures. That’s basically why we have a plan to list a subsidiary on the Alternative Investments Market (AIM) of the London Stock Exchange or acquire a subsidiary that is already listed and use that to hunt for new assets in West Africa and beyond.
Q: What kind of company are you looking at? What stage would they be at?
PN: The assets will need to be revenue producing. We can either start our own company and get it listed on the AIM, or we can buy into a company that is already listed – either purchase 100 percent or buy a controlling interest. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages, so we are considering both options and expect to settle on one very shortly.
Q: How big will these companies be? Will they be Africa-based companies or in different geographic area?
PN: It’s not so much geography as it is the mix of assets. What kind of assets do they have? Where are those assets located? We are looking at synergies and how they complement what we already do. And we are looking at taking advantage of our comparative strengths, which fall primarily in West Africa. So let’s create a make-believe scenario to illustrate the point. We examine a U.K. company listed on AIM that has assets in the Gulf of Guinea. The due diligence determines we can comfortably acquire a stake in that company and the company was receptive to our approach. Then we could acquire a controlling stake and we could achieve two things at once. First, we have diversified by adding assets in West Africa – preferably producing assets. Second, we have an AIM-listed subsidiary. But if it’s not possible to find such a company within our time limits, then we can look into creating one ourselves, listing it on AIM and acquiring assets that fit our criteria.
Q: So in an ideal world, if you found a company that met all your criteria, you would acquire it, but if it’s not out there or you can’t acquire it, you would be open to starting your own company?
PN: Yes. Exactly.
Q: Are you working with any investment banks or lawyers? Have you established a corporate structure?
PN: Recently, ERHC engaged a vice president in charge of corporate development whose specialization is corporate finance for small- and medium-cap companies. This is entirely within his limits. Already, ERHC has a group of expert consultants – investment bankers, investment lawyers who have worked with us throughout the years. So we have quite a pool of talent among our expert consultants. David Bovell, the new vice president corporate development, has come in and he has a pocketbook of contacts that he is mining as we speak to put together a specific team to advise us. But it all depends on which way we go. Are we forming a new subsidiary and seeking listing, or are we acquiring a controlling stake in a company that already is listed? Either option requires slightly different pools of expertise.
Q: We have seen a lot of talk about consolidation in the oil and gas industry. Do you think your company might be an acquisition target?
PN: We have a definite growth strategy, but having said that, we are in a business. If someone was to make an offer that had a substantial premium, we would consider selling. But our plans are to grow this company and to enhance shareholder value. The best thing to do is to grow the company to such an extent that whether it is to grow more or to look at being acquired would deliver the optimal value to our shareholders. That is the key question: what will deliver optimal value to our shareholders over time?
Q: What is your timeframe for pursuing the growth strategy versus entertaining acquisition opportunities?
PN: The goal is not necessarily that we be acquired, but it is an option we are not ruling out. Our current focus is to grow the company and enhance shareholder value. As you can see, our strategy is really to acquire smaller companies. If, in due course, we become attractive to much bigger companies and the price is right, then it will be considered. But this is a decision that is really for the shareholders and not for me to make. Looking forward five years, our strategy is to make ERHC as big and as good a company in terms of delivering shareholder value as we can.
Q: Tell us about the types of companies you are looking to acquire.
PN: We are looking at oil and gas companies as well as companies in mining and minerals. Most important, we are looking at situations in which one plus one makes five. That’s the kind of company we are looking at, and sometimes you can’t really set a value on that kind of company. You could have a company with a market capitalization of $1 million, but the addition of our technical, financial and geographic expertise can compound the value many times over – and it would be reflected in our combined market cap. At the same time, there are companies that would not be a good fit and would diminish our overall value. So our key questions will be 1) How does this company fit with what we are doing; and 2) How affordable is it – how can we finance the acquisition?
Q: As far as price tags for that company, how high would you consider going?
PN: We are working with advisors on that. It would depend on affordability and the synergies that those companies give us. ERHC is an ambitious company. We will not necessarily be put off by price, as long as we can see that there are synergies here and our investment advisors are innovative in terms of the financing methods used. That said, we would do what’s reasonable. We will not imperil this company just to make an acquisition.
Q: So if your market cap is $360 million, you won’t pursue a company that is bigger than your company.
PN: Probably not. Having said that, if our investment advisors can formulate terms that are affordable and the company is the right fit, why not?
Q: What else do you see happening in the next two to three years?
PN: In the next two to three years, we see exploratory drilling in the JDZ in the Gulf of Guinea, possibly some major discoveries. We also see ERHC as a much bigger company with a diversified asset portfolio. It will have subsidiaries and producing assets. We will be enhancing shareholder value.
ERHC Energy Inc. is a publicly traded American company with valuable oil and gas assets in the in the highly prospective Gulf of Guinea. ERHC is committed to creating and delivering significant value for its shareholders, investors, and employees; sustainable and profitable growth through risk balanced smart exploration, cost efficient development and high margin production. For more information, visit www.erhc.com.
This press release contains statements concerning ERHC Energy Inc.’s future operating milestones, future drilling operations, the planned exploration and appraisal program, future prospects, future investment opportunities and financing plans, future shareholders’ meetings, response to the Senate Subcommittee investigation, developments in the SEC investigation of the Company and related proceedings, as well as other matters that are not historical facts or information. Such statements are inherently subject to a variety of risks, assumptions and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from those anticipated, projected, expressed or implied. A discussion of the risk factors that could impact these areas and the Company’s overall business and financial performance can be found in the Company’s reports and other filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. These factors include, among others, those relating to the Company’s ability to exploit its commercial interests in the JDZ and the exclusive territorial waters of São Tomé and Príncipe, general economic and business conditions, changes in foreign and domestic oil and gas exploration and production activity, competition, changes in foreign, political, social and economic conditions, regulatory initiatives and compliance with governmental regulations and various other matters, many of which are beyond the Company’s control. Given these concerns, investors and analysts should not place undue reliance on these statements. Each of the above statements speaks only as of the date of this press release. The Company expressly disclaims any obligation or undertaking to release publicly any updates or revisions to any forward-looking statement to reflect any change in the Company’s expectations with regard thereto or any change in events, conditions or circumstances on which any of the above statements is based.