After stumbling across a project by accident, Scott Macmillan is now leading Invictus Energy on what could be a country changing exploration mission in Zimbabwe. JESSICA GABITES reports.

Zimbabwe is not a traditional exploration and production heartland, explains Zimbabwean raised Scott Macmillan, Managing Director of Australian oil and gas junior Invictus Energy.

However, Scott and his team are now on the precipice of tapping into one of the last under-explored interior rift basins in Africa – Zimbabwe’s Cabora Bassa Basin.

As Scott explains to The Yield, it was a chance meeting which led the company to this exciting project.

“I had been involved in a coal bed methane project in Botswana and was looking for one in Zimbabwe,” he said.

“Coal bed methane had been explored there previously and there had been relative success with some pilot projects.

“Back in Zimbabwe on holidays a few years ago, I happened to meet with my mother’s banker who introduced me to someone looking for a project partner.”

The project in question was the Cabora Bassa Project which encompasses the Mukuyu Prospect —  potentially the largest undrilled seismically defined structure onshore Africa, which could contain an estimated 8.2 trillion cubic feet of gas and almost 250 million barrels of liquids.

“We will look to monetise it, not only domestically in Zimbabwe but in the wider region such as South Africa, which is already facing gas supply shortfalls and is getting worse,” Scott said.

“A discovery of that size would be a multi-decade project.”

The prospect is defined by a robust dataset acquired by Mobil in the early 1990s that includes seismic, gravity, aeromagnetic and geochemical data.

Scott, who remembered Mobil exploring the region while he was growing up in Zimbabwe, did his own due diligence and was impressed with the opportunity in front of him.

“The only reason Mobil left it alone was because the company thought it was more gas prone than oil prone and in the early 1990s there was no real market for it,” he said.

“Like a lot of places, gas was unwanted then, so Mobil didn’t take it any further.”

Fast forward to 2022 and Perth-based Invictus Energy is advancing the current exploration program, having completed the acquisition of infill 2D seismic data, which has uncovered a shallower target in the post-Dande formation at a depth of about 850 metres.

Scott said the newly acquired 2D seismic data had been a fantastic milestone for the company.

“It has really increased our confidence in in our ability to map the subsurface and map all the prospectivity,” he said.

“I believe we are going to have one of the best-looking exploration portfolios of any junior going around.”

The company is now preparing for a potential basin opening drilling campaign, which is currently scheduled to kick off in July, following the mobilisation of the drilling rig from Tanzania this month.

In March, while Scott was back in Zimbabwe, the Company announced a seven-fold increase to their acreage – expanding their exploration area from 100,000 to more than 700,000 hectares.

Invictus will now drill two exploration wells, including the Mukuyu prospect and one exploration well in the expanded area.

Scott said his first trip back to Zimbabwe in several years had been extremely beneficial for a number of reasons, including allowing board members to meet each other for the first time.

“We’ve spent countless hours on Zoom and in Teams meetings together,” he said. “But there’s nothing like being together in person. We have a fantastic team there and great partners on the ground and it was wonderful to have everyone aligned ahead of the upcoming drilling campaign.

“Secondly, we went to finalise the negotiations with Government on this extended area and we reached a deal with the Sovereign Wealth Fund to expand our SG 4571 footprint by a factor of seven.

“This is fantastic as it gives us a great base to explore from and allows us to pick the best prospects for drilling, giving us the highest chance of success in our first open drilling campaign, coming up in July.”

Another benefit for Invictus is that the majority of the Company’s management, like Scott, comes from Zimbabwe.

“I think it’s one of the key differentiators for us as we know how to get things done in country,” he explained.

“We understand the business culture there, we understand the processes. In the past this has sometimes been archaic because Zimbabwe had been shut off from the rest of the world because of the previous government, but that’s now changed.”

Scott said the company also had a solid understanding of the country’s infrastructure, market and of the game changing potential a successful discovery at Mukuyu would have for the region.

“Our prospective resource base is around 1.6 billion barrels of oil equivalent for the Mukuyu prospect alone, which is held 80 per cent by Invictus,” he said.

“It’s underpinned by a great dataset that we inherited from Mobil which has been complemented by the 2D infill seismic that we acquired at the end of last year.

“If you look at the size of the prize that we’re chasing in Mukuyu and some of the other prospects that we’ve identified versus being onshore and the cost to drill it, we’ve got big offshore style prospectivity for very cheap onshore costs.

“We have also demonstrated that we can operate there, and we’ve got a ready market to monetise any discoveries very rapidly from both a gas and oil perspective.”

Scott also says the company has “a relatively modest” market cap compared to some of its peers in the region, which are up to 10 times Invictus’ current valuation.

Scott says it is an exciting time for Invictus as it prepares for its maiden drilling program.

“I have been involved in a lot of exploration before and it’s not always guaranteed of success,” he said. “However, all the indications so far, including information from our seismic data, are looking very positive.

“We have a few more things to tick off before we start drilling but it is very exciting. We’re going to find out whether we’ve got commercial oil and gas accumulations in the Cabora Bassa Basin, which if confirmed, will be company changing and country changing.”