Larry Goodman increases Providence stake to 16.1% as key oil project remains in limbo

Irish oil and gas explorer awaiting go-ahead from Minister to develop its Barryroe prospect off the coast of Cork

Beef magnate Larry Goodman has become the largest shareholder in Providence Resources, the Irish oil and gas explorer, after almost doubling his stake to 16.1 per cent in less than a week.

The disclosure came on Thursday when Providence announced its 2021 results. The company’s key Barryroe oil and gas prospect off the coast of Cork remains in limbo, amid Government delays in the issuing of a lease that would allow it to drill an appraisal well next year and source development funding.

Providence said it has been proactively engaging with the petroleum and mineral exploration licensing arm of the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications since last August and has written to the Minister, Eamon Ryan, “on a number of occasions” asking him to grant the lease undertaken “as a matter of urgency”.

“The key barrier to progressing the project is the delay in ministerial consent for the lease undertaking, to permit us to drill an appraisal well next year,” executive chairman James Menton said. “Once we have the results of this appraisal well, we are confident that our development plans can be progressed rapidly and Barryroe can have a significant impact on Ireland’s security of energy supply over the next two decades.”

Mr Menton said the project is “an opportunity we cannot afford to squander as, in any scenario to 2050, there is still some level of demand for oil and gas through the duration of the energy transition to net zero” carbon emissions.

“Despite a number of attempts to engage directly with Minister Ryan and other members of the Government, a decision on the lease undertaking is still outstanding,” the company said.

Investors in Providence have seen three Barryroe development partnership deals come to nothing in the decade since the field was found to have more than 300 million barrels of recoverable oil. The latest was abandoned in April last year.

Providence said on Monday that Mr Goodman’s Vevan investment vehicle, which had been stakebuilding in the company since at least April last year, had disclosed an 8.83 per cent holding. Mr Goodman participated in a $1.8 million (€1.7 billion) fundraising this month to tide the company over as it continues to chase the Government for the key lease.

On Thursday, Providence, which traces its roots back to the 1981 foundation of Atlantic Resources by a group led by businessman Tony O’Reilly, said in a stock exchange announcement that it has been informed that Vevan now owns 16.1 per cent of the company. A spokesman for Mr Goodman declined to comment.

It is not the first time Mr Goodman has used Vevan to take positions in Irish publicly quoted companies once heavily associated with Mr O’Reilly.

The businessman spent about €2.31 million in 2018 building up a 2.14 per cent holding in Independent News & Media (INM), a business that was controlled by Mr O’Reilly for four decades before he was forced to sell down his shares between 2014 and 2015 to pay back bank debts.

Mr Goodman made a 35 per cent return on his INM investment a year later when the business was sold to Belgian publisher Mediahuis.

Elsewhere, Vevan accumulated a 5 per cent stake in Green Reit before the commercial property group was sold in late 2019 to UK real estate company Henderson Park Capital for €1.34 billion.

Providence reported an operating loss of €2.37 million last year, down marginally from a loss of €2.44 million in 2020.

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan is Markets Correspondent of The Irish Times