Gerry Orbell was skiing in Courchevel when he got the call inviting him to run a new oil and gas company. At the other end of the line, Gavin Wilson of RAB Capital (LON:RAB) set out his plans for an AIM quoted ‘cash box’ targeting assets in West Africa. For Orbell, who says he was simply “minding my own business as chairman of Antrim Energy”, the prospect offered a new challenge and one which he concedes has proved to be a long, hard grind. Nevertheless, after five years of highs and lows, Sound Oil (LON:SOU) is about to see drilling get under way across its portfolio. The focus is on near-term gas exploration and production from its flagship projects in Italy and the prospect of high impact exploration drilling on projects in Indonesia.

Sound Oil floated on AIM in June 2005 and 12 months later diverted from its original African strategy with the reverse acquisition of Mitra Energia, an unquoted gas exploration company in Indonesia. The deal gave it a 34% stake in the Bangkanai Block onshore central Kalimantan and a 20% interest in the Citarum Block onshore central Java. However, appraisal and development of the two highly prospective assets was frustrated by slow progress by their respective operators. The good news is that both projects are now in the hands of new operators. At Bangkanai, where Sound Oil slashed its holding to a carried 5% in May 2010, Salamander Energy (LON:SMDR) has taken control and is planning two exploration wells this year and development of the Kerendan gas field, which lies on the licence. At Citarum, three new exploration wells are expected in 2011 under the operatorship of TSX-listed Pan Orient Energy (TSX-V:POE).

Meanwhile, Orbell is working hard on a range of prospects among a portfolio of 17 oil and gas exploration permits and applications in Italy. These were acquired as part of Sound Oil’s acquisition of Consul Oil & Gas last December – another of Orbell’s directorships. The first development here is expected in April when a rig is due to complete two key intervals in the Marciano-1ST well, which are estimated to contain 2.5 billion standard cubic feet of gas. The well lies on the company’s 99%-held Fonte San Damiano…

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