Betting on power: energy executives turned wildcatters strike oil and gas in Patagonia.

Author:Long, Gideon



Name: GeoPark

Sector: Energy

Founded: 2002 in Chile

HQ: Bermuda

CEO: James F. Park


SANTIAGO -- Jim Park and Gerry O'Shaughnessy, who count more than 70 years in the energy business between them, hardly fit the image of wildcatters.

But Park, a trained geophysicist and former earthquake scientist, and O'Shaughnessy, an attorney-turned-oil executive-turned venture capitalist, took a walk on the wild side when they teamed up in 2002 to co-found a Latin American oil and gas exploration firm.

"It was post 9/11, post Enron and in the midst of Argentina's economic meltdown," the Texas-born Park recalled. "Crude oil prices were below $20 a barrel, and the sensible money was running in the opposite direction."

Still, the two partners bucked conventional wisdom and dug deep into their own pockets to fund their exploration venture, called GeoPark Holdings Ltd.

That high-stakes bet is reaping dividends. GeoPark has spent the last eight years drilling for oil and gas in the barren wastes of Argentine and Chilean Patagonia, and has hit the jackpot in both of them.

GeoPark accounts for 30 percent of all the hydrocarbons produced in Chile today. It is exploiting six blocks, a total of 3.8 million acres, on both sides of the Argentine-Chilean border, and plans to expand into Brazil, Colombia and Peru.

"It's an exciting and pivotal time for us." Park said. "We've built what we believe is the best oil- and gas-finding team in the region, with a proven business model which we can now replicate in new projects throughout Latin America."

In Chile, GeoPark has notably succeeded where the state energy company ENAP consistently failed. Since the 1940s, ENAP was aware there was oil and gas in the extreme south of the country and tried to exploit it, but was generally unable to turn a profit.

GeoPark arrived with lower overheads and more modern technology. As the first private oil and gas producer to operate in Chile, the company targeted areas with potential that had not been tested by ENAP and soon began to make money where ENAP had turned up dry wells.

"We were met with some resistance when we first arrived, but now we're considered an element of Chile's long-term energy development solution," Park said.

Chile badly needs the help. One of the wealthiest countries in the region in terms of per capita income, it is one of the poorest when it comes to energy. The country must locate new sources of oil...

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