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Ophir Energy replaces CEO Cooper amid LNG project delays

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LNG Industry,

Reuters are reporting that Ophir Energy is replacing CEO Nicholas Cooper with immediate effect amid delays in funding a major gas project in Equatorial Guinea that have slashed its share value in the past year.

Alan Booth, currently a non-executive director, has been named interim CEO and executive director, Ophir said.

The company is looking “to rebalance its portfolio towards a larger production and cash flow base, to support more focused and sustainable exploration activity,” the board said.

Cooper served as chief executive for almost seven years. He led the company’s IPO in 2011, its sale of part of its interest in Tanzania in 2013 and its acquisition of Salamander in 2015.

Most recently, Cooper initiated a proposed acquisition of Santos Ltd’s Southeast Asian assets.

However, the company has struggled to secure US$1.2 billion in bank loans needed to fund the Fortuna deepwater LNG project in Equatorial Guinea, forcing it to push back first production to 2022.

This week, Equatorial Guinea’s energy minister said that Ophir would be forced out of the project unless loan deals were presented to the government by December. Gabriel Obiang Lima said the country had already lined up a potential replacement.

Ophir’s board said it would continue to focus on realising value for shareholders from the Fortuna project and work with Equatorial Guinea on achieving that.

However, Morgan Stanley analyst Sasikanth Chilukuru said in a note that Cooper’s departure “adds more uncertainty to the investment thesis, one that is dominated by the Fortuna FLNG project”.

Ophir shares fell as much as 8% of 18 May and stood down 3.2% at 63.70 pounds.

The stock is down 33% in the past year, losing out on gains enjoyed by peers courtesy of a rise in energy prices including Brent crude oil and spot LNG.

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