For intrepid explorers like John Teeling, life is unlikely to get easier

Clontarf Energy’s woes are not recent. Could Teeling stepping aside help break logjam?

Exploration is no game for the faint-hearted. Generations of shareholders have been burned chasing dreams of gold, oil or precious metals – particularly in Ireland.

Yet none of that has ever deterred John Teeling, the indefatigable cheerleader for the sector in Ireland. Teeling has founded literally dozens of exploration companies on both the Dublin and London markets over the past 30 years.

There have been good times and, more often, bad. But never has the veteran explorer sounded as thoroughly depressed as in this week's update to shareholders at London-listed Clontarf Energy.

“I write this statement as the bear market in junior exploration investments continues,” he wrote, adding that “this extended depression is causing even the most optimistic investors to consider their position.” Presumably Teeling, until now irrepressibly ebullient, numbers himself among that band of eternal optimists.


He concedes that “many have given up and sold out” but notes that there are “few if any buyers” for stock in the sort of exploration minnows he specialises in overseeing.

The note gets to the heart of the challenge for investors in Teeling companies, noting that it seeks “opportunities often in areas where more established conservative companies will not go”.

That might explain why his commentary goes on to catalogue a series of setbacks in all the regions where Clontarf operates – nationalisation without compensation of assets in Bolivia and licences agreed in Ghana that have not yet been rubber-stamped.

But these are not recent woes. By his own account, Bolivia moved on Teeling 13 years ago and it has been waiting on government ratification of its Ghanaian licences for a decade, while, as even Teeling concedes, others have jumped ahead, secured licences and made discoveries.

You can imagine that some shareholders might suggest one possible option: Teeling stepping aside to see if a new face can break the logjam. For now that doesn’t appear to be on his radar.

“We share the concerns and frustration of shareholders who have waited for years for positive news. There has been a number of false dawns. All I can offer my fellow shareholders is hope.”

And even if he does make headway with one or other of his mining ventures, Teeling and his investors now face a world where climate change is in the ascendancy and exploration is subject to ever closer scrutiny. Life is unlikely to get any easier.