In the 1990s, Mobil Oil spent $30 million prospecting for oil in the Zambezi basin. They abandoned the search when they discovered that the area had more gas than oil.
At the time, there was no structured market for gas in the region, so Mobil wasn’t interested, and the company stopped the search. Now, years years later, an Australian firm has received approvals to invest in gas exploration in the area. The data that Mobil gathered has been kept a secret, until now.
Oil and gas company Invictus Energy, listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), has flown under the “mega deals” radar. But it has recently acquired potentially one of the largest gas exploration assets in the country.
The company, formerly known as Interpose, has bought 80 percent of a gas project in Muzarabani, northern Zimbabwe. The project comprises 250,000 acres in the Cabora Bassa basin, which contains the Muzarabani prospect. Invictus describes the Muzarabani asset as “potentially the largest undrilled, seismically defined structure onshore Africa with TCF (trillion cubic feet) plus potential”.
Invictus has raised some A$4.5million on the ASX for the exploration phase and appointed Scott Macmillan, a Zimbabwean, as Managing Director. Macmillan has been trying to get the project off the ground for a decade, but a change in Government and the oil and gas market have aligned in his favour.
“I found this project nearly a decade ago and was immediately attracted to its technical merits, given the considerable dataset that Mobil acquired and the fact that they had already identified a substantial conventional gas-condensate prospect in the basin,” Macmillan says.
The Mobil data has never before been made public, raising fresh questions about how much Zimbabwe knows about its resources. As seen in Chiadzwa, where DeBeers explored diamonds for years, much of that knowledge may be in private hands.
Invictus believes it has “has secured the most prospective area in the basin ahead of any competition”.
Invictus Energy has now received approvals from RBZ, the Zimbabwe Investment Centre, the Ministry of Mines and the Ministry of Energy and Power Development.
According to Macmillan, the timing of the award of the permits and the change of Government in Zimbabwe has coincided with a positive turn in the oil and gas industry, where he says companies are now increasing exploration.
“A gas discovery in Zimbabwe will be a huge driver for the country’s economy and Zimbabweans through multiple commercialisation options that are available. The country is again open to business and foreign investment, with the new government implementing substantial reforms to encourage and promote investment in the country.”
Invictus this week appointed Getech Group, a UK-listed firm, to provide data management and technical support to Invictus for the Cabora Bassa Project. Invictus is keen to renew the data done by Mobil 25 years ago using modern technology.
Macmillan commented on the Getech appointment: “Now that the harmonised elections in Zimbabwe have been concluded, the administration is focused on continuing to attract foreign investment and resurrecting the economy. We are excited to appoint Getech to undertake the reprocessing and reinterpretation work that will complement the internal work by our subsurface team.”
Invictus is one of several Australian firms making a push into Zimbabwe. In April, Latitude Consolidated bought the Mbeta lithium project in Zimbabwe.
Prospect Resources has recently announced a sales deal with Chinese company Sinomine for its Arcadia Lithium mine, but tripped up when world markets stumbled in February. It repriced a $10 million capital raising from 6c to 5c a share, and has not yet recovered.
Director Harry Greaves says political changes allowed them to renegotiate the Sinomine deal in their favour, but the full import of that hasn’t yet been recognised by investors. In February, it also exercised its option to buy the Good Days lithium project.
Lithium and vanadium explorer Six Sigma launched its Zimbabwe ambitions in May, taking up an option to buy 80 per cent of a vanadium-titanium and a lithium project.
According to Stockhead, which tracks ASX stocks, firms with exposure to Zimbabwe have seen their shares rise in value over the past year.
Zimbabwe is a buy?
“Mnangagwa is a reformer and he’s quite a pragmatic guy,” says Invictus’s Macmillan.
“There is a genuine intent to restore the country’s status, but backing that up is all of these legislative changes and bilateral treaties… [that guarantee] no resources nationalisation or things of that ilk.”
The mining minister, Winston Chitando, learned his job at Anglo-American and this is the first time he’s entered politics.
“He’s essentially a poacher turned gamekeeper,” Macmillan says.
It’s a long road
Prospect’s Greaves says the monetary issue is one of the biggest issues right now, as there is simply not enough printed currency in the country. “The rest is just the perception that Zim is a hard place to do business.”