Nick Cooper has parted company with Ophir Energy (OPHR) after seven years as chief executive. The abrupt departure, which came two days after Ophir’s AGM, comes at a critical time for the oil and gas group, which faces issues with the funding of its Fortuna LNG project, and is in the process of acquiring a package of assets from Australian group Santos for $205m (£154m).
The latter deal, which Mr Cooper is understood to have brought to the board, should give Ophir a working interest in 13,500 barrels of oil equivalent per day, and has been billed as a move to rebalance the group’s portfolio “towards a larger production and cash flow base”.
That shift also precipitated Mr Cooper’s departure, which a company spokesperson assured us was by mutual consent and not for a failure to get Fortuna to final investment decision. Under former non-executive director Alan Booth, who has stepped into Mr Cooper’s shoes on an interim basis, Ophir says it has a leader with a skillset better suited to a production-oriented operator.
Some investors may query that spin, given Ophir has had meaningful production since 2015. The ensuing period has also been marked by a series of obstacles to the company’s major liquefied natural gas project in offshore Equatorial Guinea. Three years ago, Ophir was targeting first gas from Fortuna in 2019, and still expected the project to deliver more than $200m of free cash flow per year after reducing its economic interest to 40 per cent.
Negotiations now appear to have either stalled or been overcomplicated by the number of parties involved. Last year, we learned that Fortuna’s partners had elected to receive up to $1.2bn from a “leading Asian bank” on similar terms to those agreed (and then apparently later abandoned) with three Chinese financing groups.