Finder Exploration is a privately owned oil and gas company operating from Perth, Western Australia, with permits across the North West Shelf. Founded in 2004 by Jan Ostby, originally an entrepreneurial explorer in the multi-client seismic space, Finder has found success in securing and operating a total of 30 petroleum permits in Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, UK and more recently Canada.
Now led by CEO Shane Westlake, Finder’s primary focus is on their offshore and onshore permits in Australia and highly prospective interests in Canada. The company has consolidated predominantly to Australia and has focused on its core skills and knowledge in the Australian basins, using new technology and 3D seismic data to push forward exploration in this area.
“We are very regional focused, we don’t like looking at small bits of data and have an industry leading database of the North West Shelf, Australia. We put the exploration puzzle pieces back into the regional framework, the plate tectonic framework, and then we derive our permit-scale prospects,” explained Westlake.
There is a clear sustainable business model based on three key processes that has enabled Finder to achieve such success since its formation. The company creates value through leveraging technology, using data to identify and develop ‘high impact’ opportunities and building relationships with industry partners to high-grade and develop prospects.
Finder describes its process to establish revenue in three steps:
Westlake is taking the company through key developments and joint venture agreements in its offshore permits, including the three discoveries it has made thus far. Finder is also developing its onshore well Theia-1, which operates in the unconventional oil space and bringing Canadian assets into the company’s portfolio. For the future there are clear plans to see offshore projects through to later development and transform the onshore Canning Basin into a world class opportunity.
Finder’s biggest successes to date have been in the offshore space where it has been able to drill five exploration wells and backing that up with successful farm-out endeavours to companies such as Shell, Woodside and more recently, Quadrant. This is all the more impressive considering the size of the company and the difficulty of raising funds as a private entity, in the capital intensive offshore industry.
Finder also has a strong conversion rate at the drill bit – of the five offshore exploration wells drilled, three have turned out to be discoveries. 2013 saw the gas discovery at Olympus-1 in the Carnarvon Basin and more recently in 2014 the Phoenix South oil discovery was identified in the Bedout Sub-basin.
Finder describes the Phoenix South discovery as ‘arguably the most significant new oil play on the North West Shelf since the Wanaea/Cossack discovery 25 years ago’, with an estimated 300 million barrels in place.
Following the success at Phoenix South, Finder went onto drilling the Roc-1 well just before Christmas 2015. Although Westlake believed they were on to another significant oil discovery, Roc-1 didn’t turn out exactly as they expected.
“Although not the same structure as the Phoenix South-1 oil discovery, it was along trend, in jack-up water depth and cheaper drilling. It was big and beautiful and our expectations were that it was going to be oil. However, we hit water-wet reservoir at the primary target.”
“Then we drilled through to our secondary target and intersected wet gas pay. It was a rollercoaster of a ride and made for a rocky Christmas and then a rewarding New Year.”
The Roc-1 gas discovery is estimated to contain as much as 1.4 trillion cubic feet (TCF) and the gas and reservoir quality indicate a potentially commercial discovery.
Having identified the acreage and successfully drilled the well to discovery, Finder recently applied the third stage of its business model when it entered into an agreement to divest the opportunity to Quadrant.
The sale and purchase agreement involves Finder’s entire acreage holding in the Bedout Sub-basin, including both the 2014 Phoenix South oil discovery and the 2015 Roc-1 wet gas discovery.
“Our whole model is based around identifying and de-risking oil and gas opportunities and once we have added our value, to pass the assets onto the production companies. This opportunity was attractive to Quadrant to increase their equity position,” explained Westlake. “It was a win-win for both parties, which is our typical model, and we look forward to continued success from the remaining joint venture partners, Quadrant and Carnarvon Petroleum, in this basin.”
Westlake’s current focus in offshore Australia is on the new seismic data collected over three of Finder’s permits in the North West Shelf, “We are excited about the new data and the opportunity of maturing the hydrocarbon prospectivity, high-grading the prospects to drill-ready status and then farming out in 2017.”
“We aim to be counter cyclical at this time [low oil price] where we can pick up some very good acreage at a reasonable cost with a cost-effective exploration programme.”
Finder’s offshore success has also been attributed to the high calibre of service companies used to complement their internal capabilities, including Fugro, Schlumberger and Downunder Geosolutions. To explore cost effectively Finder has built strong relationships with multi-client companies such as Spectrum, TGS and Searcher Seismic.
Looking forward in the offshore, Westlake is trying to find commercial models that allows Finder to continue through the appraisal and development process once it makes a discovery.
“The more success you have the hungrier you are to grow, explore more opportunities and keep the assets for longer in the exploration cycle. That’s somewhere we want to evolve our offshore business model whilst maintaining our core values and opportunistic approach to exploration.”
Finder’s onshore operations took off in 2015 with the drilling of its Theia-1 well in the Canning Basin permit EP-493 midway through the year. The well was the first stratigraphic test of an unconventional liquids-rich resource play in the basin. It was drilled to ~1,645mRT and recovered about 800m of core using the DDH1 drilling rig. Finder teamed up with local company Aztech and international experts, Fugro and Weatherford to complete the drilling, coring and logging safely without incident. Finder operate the permit at 100 per cent.
“It’s in the Ordovician-aged Goldwyer Formation that has been drilled through many times but unevaluated as an unconventional resource, we think we’ve stamped our footprint on the sweet spot,” said Westlake. “The well results are nearly all complete and are looking very positive. This well was a huge highlight of 2015 and another milestone achievement for the company.”
Westlake was pleased that Finder’s first operated well had been drilled safely, on budget and also on schedule. The initial results show high wet mud gas readings, a visible gas haze escaping cores at the surface and bottom hole temperatures suggest a geothermal gradient within the oil window for the Goldwyer III shales. The assessment validates the geological model and has also de-risked the prospect.
Finder has typically used local teams in its onshore supply chain. AMC Muds, RPS Environmental and Roadline Civils amongst others were utilised to complete the drilling and Government funded research groups in CSIRO were working alongside Finder in the analysis of the core. To bring in the international expertise for unconventional play analysis, Finder have conducted many post well studies with Schlumberger in their regional Perth office.
Having received a permit suspension and extension, Westlake will spend the next six months moving the onshore component of the business forward.
“We are currently conducting a geophysical study on existing seismic data to see how far the play extends and with the final results from Theia-1, we are running economics and commercial studies. The next stage is to prove the commercial deliverability of the rocks themselves through drilling and testing in the next exploration well.”
Looking further ahead Westlake wants to open up the Canning Basin and completely change it in terms of prospects in the unconventional space.
“We could be the front runners for the unconventional play in this basin and that would be an exciting opportunity.”
Having mainly focussed on Australian basins, Westlake’s future vision for Finder sees the company taking the expertise they have developed and applying it in other countries to bring in new assets.
In June 2015 Finder began exploration in Alberta, Canada with the acquisition of 130,000 acres of Petroleum and Natural Gas Rights and Westlake is excited about the opportunities there.
“Alberta is an amazing hydrocarbon province. We hope to expand and be a little bit more aggressive in Canada,” he said. “Drilling is cheaper there [than Australia] and that allows us to explore alternative business models that could open up Finder to near term production. We are looking at it with a lot of interest.”
“It’s taken time to get where we are [in Australia] but there are other areas of the world where I think we can apply our business model. We are opportunity driven using knowledge, technology and data to deliver results and that model can be applied globally with the right people and partnerships. We hope to enter into at least one or two new international opportunities in the next five years.”