Oil company legal stoush all wrapped up

ROB MAETZIG
Last updated 05:00 25/05/2013

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A high-profile legal battle over ownership of one of Taranaki's most active oil and gas exploration companies has come to an end.

The High Court has ruled Greymouth Petroleum's former chief operating officer John Sturgess must sell his 14 per cent stake in the company.

The decision opens the way for Greymouth to grow its operations in New Zealand and overseas, its owners say.

Sturgess, who had been relieved of his position in February 2011, had been seeking a court-ordered sale of 100 per cent of Greymouth. But instead the court has rejected this and ordered his exit.

It means Greymouth shareholders, chief executive Mark Dunphy who holds 52 per cent and Auckland investor Peter Masfen who holds 34 per cent, can now seek a new shareholder.

Greymouth is New Zealand's second-largest locally owned oil and gas producer. It holds 550 square kilometres of petroleum acreage in Taranaki, including the Kowhai, Ngatoro and Kaimiro oil and gas fields, plus concessions in the Great South Basin and Chile.

The High Court decision puts an end to an acrimonious battle between the Greymouth shareholders that has been followed by a large number of players in the Taranaki energy industry - not the least current and former Greymouth employees.

In a court hearing late last year Dunphy and Masfen had accused Sturgess of breaching his director's duties and leading Greymouth towards a potential crisis.

The court had been told important staff left the company because of their inability to work with Sturgess, who would not share expert data with them which meant Greymouth could not run efficiently.

Sturgess had been suspended in February 2011 for three months, but he said the suspension was unlawful. The suspension was extended in May that year.

Dunphy and Masfen then proposed some sale alternatives for Sturgess, including a negotiated sale to a preferred party, a market tender of the 14 per cent stake to companies expressing interest, or a listing of the shares in an initial public offering.

But Sturgess responded by seeking an order that the whole company sell its shares, that Dunphy or Masfen sell their shares to him, or that the company be liquidated.

In a statement, Dunphy said he and his fellow shareholder welcomed the High Court decision.

"We are enthusiastic about Greymouth Petroleum's next chapter of growth.

"We are fortunate to have many talented personnel conducting and supporting its operations, with more than 200 employees and contractors in New Zealand and more than 100 in Chile.

"We look forward to welcoming a new shareholder, whose vision aligns with ours, onto our register to participate with us," Dunphy said.

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