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Interview

with Ruud Zoon, Managing Director, Cirrus Energy Nederland

23.11.2009 / Energyboardroom

You have a wide experience in the oil and gas industry, with experience within integrated oil companies such as Mobil and Husky. What made you join Cirrus and why now?

I started my career at Mobil Corporation where I worked for some 10 years and had the chance to grow professionally – it was a very effective way to get trained and educated on the oil and gas world.

I also had the chance to work overseas with Mobil in the UK and at Mobil headquarters in the USA. Then I joined the Dutch company Bluewater, became their Vice President for floating Production, and where I learned more about international contracting – China, South Africa, the UK and Brazil. I did realize however my talents are best used with an oil company, so when an opportunity to join Husky presented itself I joined that company and went to East Coast Canada to work on a large offshore oil field development. With Husky I was responsible for their East Coast operations, including the White Rose field development and FPSO project. This fitted well with my experience with FPSOs at Bluewater.

The White Rose project was very successful from many angles; productivity, oil price, schedule and budget. But after four years at Husky I wanted to return to Holland and spend more time with my family. Cirrus Energy required a Managing Director for their Dutch office and via my Canadian connections I was sourced for that position.

I do enjoy the small company environment where decision making is quick and response times fast. Cirrus has a very attractive portfolio of assets, is in a growth mode, and now has two offshore gas fields producing generating a healthy cash flow.

Cirrus’ first gas production in the Netherlands was achieved with the start-up of the M7-A Field on September 12, 2009 and in October you commenced operations at the L8-D field, where you are the operator. What will be the impact of these new cash flows to Cirrus?

Financially Cirrus is well placed. We now have a healthy cash flow from M7 and L8-D, an active debt facility and working capital from equity placements. Cirrus challenge now is to progress new developments and we have a very strong organization in place to identify new opportunities and bring these onstream. We have a number of attractive projects that we are progressing, we have a strong exploration portfolio with exploration prospects ready to drill, and we are actively evaluating new business opportunities.

What will be the exact impact of this new financial capacity for Cirrus in terms of growth for 2010?

Our financial assets will be used to further develop our existing producing fields M7 and L8-D, to drill exploration wells on the licences we currently hold, and to fund new developments via new licences, acquisitions and farm-ins.

Why would a Canadian firm invest in the Netherlands?

Cirrus has a long history in the Netherlands. Many members of our management and technical staff have worked in the Netherlands for many years, and we have established a strong network. We understand the geology, the commercial framework and are comfortable with the licence process and fiscal regime. There are many opportunities for a small company like Cirrus in the Netherlands to develop small fields that are difficult to justify for the larger companies since generally these companies carry more costs and overheads. Offshore the Netherlands there is significant processing and pipeline infrastructure in place which helps bringing on new developments quickly and efficiently.

We also see the Dutch government participation in exploration and development via Energy Beheer Nederland (EBN) as a positive. EBN brings financial strength and significant technical expertise as a joint venture partner.

With these advantages, how do you see Cirrus expanding its positions in the Dutch offshore and possibly also in the rest of the North Sea?

The Netherlands is clearly our main base. We still see a lot of opportunities here to grow our business. However, Cirrus is also looking at other areas, such as the UK, where earlier this year we acquired Wilderness Energy UK Limited, which has become a fully owned subsidiary of Cirrus. Wilderness held non-operated interests in a number of exploration licences in the UK.

We see the UK as a natural expansion area for Cirrus as technically there are many similarities between the Dutch and the UK offshore, especially in the southern gas basin.

As you highlighted before, one of the main attributes of Cirrus in the Netherlands is working as operator but in partnership with other companies such as EB and TAQA. What is the importance of those partnerships for Cirrus in the Netherlands?

Oil companies generally work in partnerships when they take exploration risk and develop their assets. Exploration is a risky and costly business and it helps to spread risk and have a diversified portfolio.

Having said that, Cirrus has a strong preference to be the designated operator of its licences. That implies we can then control the pace of development and the capital expenditures, important for a small company with limited access to financial markets. As a result we operate all our assets in the Netherlands but one.

As Bram Mannekes from NOGEPA highlighted, one of the greatest common challenges the upstream oil and gas industry is facing right now is the generational gap of talent with baby boomers retiring and few youngsters to replace them. In a competitive labor market, how does a company like Cirrus attract and retain its workforce?

That is indeed one of our main challenges. We do find that a lot of people enjoy working for a small but ambitious and aggressive young company. We have a relatively flat organization, where our employees carry significant responsibilities and we work in a team environment. We have been successful in bringing on the M7 and L8-D developments this year, our reputation as a competent and safe operator is now well established. As a result we have indeed been able to strengthen our team recently.

And looking towards the future, what are your main ambitions for Cirrus’ operations in the Netherlands for the next three to five years?

Cirrus will very actively be looking at opportunities for further growth, in the Netherlands, but also in new areas such as the UK. Our focus will be on smaller gas developments, where we now have an established track record and strong technical expertise.

What will be your message to the readers of Oil and Gas Financial Journal willing to know more about Cirrus and the opportunities in the gas industry in the Netherlands?

A key message is that a small but focused company, with strong technical, commercial and operational skills can be very successful, even in a mature basin as the Dutch offshore. Many opportunities for future growth still exist. Key to success is our people, and we have been very lucky to be able to assemble a very strong and experienced team here in the Netherlands.

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