The Sunday Times (c) April 09, 2006
Has mind guru’s teaching paid off in giant oil strike?
WAS it a case of mind over matter? A tiny company set up by two Irish women and three geologists in 2002 has struck oil in Belize, with the help of controversial lifestyle guru Tony Quinn.
Succeeding where multibillion dollar corporations had failed, the company has found commercial quantities of high-quality crude in the small Central American state, population 290,000. They claim their success was partly due to a mind-training course from Quinn.
Belize Natural Energy (BNE), backed by American and Irish investors, claims to have found so much oil that the Belize government reckons its 7.5% cut from the discovery will pay the entire national budget for a year.
A succession of oil majors quit the country in disappointment after failing to find a gusher, but BNE scored three times in its first three attempts, and the government believes it could soon be producing 20,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd).
Enniskillen-born Sheila McCaffrey, a director of BNE, said the company’s success was not pot luck. “Seven years ago I trained with Tony Quinn; it was an absolute transformation. It completely changed my life and it’s the only reason I’m in Belize today,” she said last week.
“The history showed us that 50 companies failed spectacularly to find anything commercial, with a budget line from the 1950s to the 1990s of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Quinn’s philosophy, which promotes what he calls “mind technology”, has been criticised as brainwashing but is defended by adherents as positive and life-changing.
Complaints about Quinn’s techniques have come from the likes of Dialogue Ireland, a cult watchdog, which says seminars in the Bahamas costing €18,500 are proof of the “idiot effect” — “the phenomenon of entrepreneurs losing the plot and direction in life when they pay inflated prices for courses available for a few euros in a paperback”.
McCaffrey and Belfast-born geologist Susan Morrice, who met working on oil and gas exploration projects in Ireland, set up the company with Mike Usher, a Belizian geologist who was convinced the country was oil-rich. They had financing from Morrice’s husband, a Colorado oil executive, and more than 80 Irish investors.
Usher died suddenly in June 2004 but one year on BNE drilled its first hole, named Mike Usher 1 in his memory, and struck oil on the anniversary of his death. Mike Usher 2 and 3, the second and third holes, proved they not only had struck oil but that it was of the highest quality possible.
“In all the surrounding countries you’ve got heavy crude oil the consistency of butter, like Kerrygold, which has to be refined,” said McCaffrey. “The quality of their oil is just 15-25 API (a measurement of oil purity). Here we’re sitting on oil which is closer to 40. To get an idea of what that means, diesel in a refined state is 42.”
Producers in surrounding countries have only discovered oilfields that yield up to 200 bpd, while BNE is pumping 1,000 bpd. McCaffrey estimates at least 70m barrels lie under their exploration area.
“You’d expect in a situation like this it must be people vastly experienced in the oil industry and backed by people who are industry professionals. That is just the opposite of us,” she said.
“The result is what you’re starting to see now, transposing itself out of the ground. People can be as sceptical about it as they like, quite frankly, but I would be prepared to just sit back and say the results will speak for themselves.”
So is the local government. John Briceno, Belize’s minister of natural resources, calculates that at current prices the government’s take from even small-scale pumping of around 60,000 bpd would fund the country’s budget.
“If we could produce even 20,000 bpd, you can imagine what we could do with that,” he said in a recent interview. “It could make a huge difference for our little country.”
Last week BNE volunteered to give 1% of its earnings to a fund for medical and environmental initiatives in the state. It has already handed over the first $500,000 (€413,480), even before its contract comes into effect.
The Irish company has been remarkably quick about turning its discovery into cash. In January, it shipped 40,000 barrels to Houston, earning $2m.
The 7.5% royalty it has to pay Belize is much less than in other oil-producing countries. Royalties to Norway for exploration in the North Sea are 70%.