NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) – Activist hedge fund Elliott Management Corp has invested at least $30 million in Cataleya Energy, a small firm focused on oil exploration in Guyana, the world’s newest oil and gas hot spot, two people familiar with the matter said.
The deal reflects rising interest in Guyana, a small South American country of 750,000 whose oil discoveries are set to transform an economy dependent on agriculture and mining.
Five years ago, a consortium led by Exxon Mobil Corp struck oil off the Guyanese coast in the 6.6 million-acre (26,800 square kilometer) Stabroek block that has been shown to hold more than 8 billion barrels of recoverable oil and gas.
Cataleya, founded by Canadian and Guyanese businessmen with backgrounds in gold mining, holds a 25% stake in the Kaieteur block, a 3.3 million-acre area adjacent to Stabroek. Exxon holds a 35% stake in Kaieteur, and is the block’s operator.
Elliott declined to comment.
Mike Cawood, chief executive and co-founder of Canada-registered Cataleya, declined to comment on the Elliott investment but said his shareholders come from Guyana, the Caribbean, the United States, Canada and Israel.
“We’ve got a large investor range,” he said.
The company will disclose details of its beneficial ownership later this year for Guyana’s next report to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a multinational standard-setting body, he said.
Guyana’s government has not held licensing rounds for new acreage recently. Elliott’s deal shows how companies with ownership stakes in existing blocks can provide investors with a means to gain exposure to future developments.
The investment puts Elliott, run by billionaire Paul Singer, in a consortium with U.S. producer Hess Corp, which owns a 15% stake in Kaieteur. Elliott, a shareholder in Hess, pushed for changes at Hess in 2013 and remained critical here of the company’s management for years.
Elliott is well-known in Latin America for its use of litigation to enforce claims on defaulted Peruvian and Argentine bonds.
Elliott also has taken stakes in energy companies QEP Resources Inc, Marathon Petroleum Corp, and Noble Energy. Private equity also is among its investment strategies, the company said on its website.
Cataleya was advised on the deal by boutique investment bank Hannam & Partners, according to one of the people.
The investment faced a setback this month when Exxon disclosed its first exploration well in Kaieteur, known as Tanager-1, had struck less lucrative heavy oil, and that the well was not financially viable on its own.
Exxon said it was still “evaluating the exploration potential” in the block.