Falklands oil shares hit as Amerada quits

THE FALKLANDS Islands oil boom was punctured yesterday, knocking over 30 per cent off the value of shares in Desire Petroleum quoted on the London stock market.

Other companies with interests in the Falklands were also marked down. Oil group Lasmo saw its shares dip 1p to 294.5p while the port and hotel operator Falkland Islands dropped 21p to 179p.

The south Atlantic bubble burst late Wednesday night when Amerada Hess, announced it was abandoning the first well in the region.

Amerada Hess said it had encountered traces of hydrocarbons but added: "Appraisal showed that these were not present in commercial quantities."

The well 14/09-1 in tranch A of the North Falklands Basin has been plugged and abandoned. Amerada Hess will move back into its acreage in the last quarter of the year.

Meanwhile the rig is being passed on to Shell, which will start its own exploration drilling programme immediately.

Shares in Desire, launched at the turn of the year at 125p, had risen to 495p on the back of feverish speculation that Amerada's drilling rig, Borgny Dolphin, had hit oil. Yesterday shares in Desire closed at 260p.

The Desire share roller-coaster had started on 19 May. Although management urged caution, its shares rose 24 per cent that day on speculation that Amerada had found signs of hydrocarbons.

Analysts said yesterday that finding anything at all was encouraging but oil shows did not in themself prove the Falklands to be an interesting area for exploration.

They pointed out that even in proven oil provinces like deepwater Gulf of Mexico, the success rate on wells drilled was only one in four. For unexplored areas like the Falklands it was one in 10.

Alan Marshall, energy analyst with Robert Fleming, said it could take up to 20 wells to really know where one stood. "We are no further forward really in terms of the Falklands being an oil province. Certain shares were over-hyped. It was like the bad old days when the charactaristics of the sector were seen as highly speculative."

Desire was established specifically to take advantage of interest in the South Atlantic. The fact that it has former Clyde Petroleum chief, Dr Colin Phipps, associated with it lent it credibility with investors.

Other speculative companies have also been formed, including Sodra, established by Adolf H. Lundin whose International Petroleum Corporation is quoted in Sweden and Canada.

There were four blocks offered by the Falkland Islands government as part of its first round licensing round. Oil companies have agreed to share the costs of keeping the semi-submersible rig in the area.

The licensing has caused political friction with Argentina which recently warned it planned to levy its own tax on any oil that was produced in the region.

The enthusiasm for drilling in new areas has partly diminished because of the slump in the price of oil.