Nevada Oil Leases Sold to Speculator, Poet With Myanmar Ties (1)

Sept. 8, 2020, 7:49 PMUpdated: Sept. 8, 2020, 8:32 PM

A poet and entrepreneur with ties to Myanmar who previously bought the rights to develop geothermal energy in Washington state on Tuesday became the latest oil and gas speculator in Nevada.

Levi Sap Nei Thang of Los Angeles purchased 10 of 11 oil and gas leases in the state, mostly for the lowest possible bid of $2 per acre, according to sale results and the list of registered bidders provided to Bloomberg Law by the Bureau of Land Management.

The 11th parcel was leased by Kirkwood Oil and Gas LLC of Casper, Wyo., one of the five oil companies already operating in Nevada.

The 11 parcels totaled 15,445 acres and were the latest flurry of sales by the land bureau, which is auctioning off 535,000 acres of federal land through the end of September.

Thang, who has no history of oil development in Nevada, purchased a geothermal energy development lease on the slopes of Mt. Baker in Washington state in June. She said at the time that she had no experience developing geothermal energy.

Kirkwood’s land manager Steve Degenfelder said Tuesday that Thang has placed bids in previous lease sales his company has participated in.

“We haven’t done any business with them and don’t know if they intend to develop, put together tracts, or are just bidding on them to inventory them and not do anything,” Degenfelder said.

Family Benefit

Thang’s website says she’s a poet, author, entrepreneur, and “dreamer” who markets skin care products, promotes her home country of Myanmar, and has oil and gas interests in several states. Her Facebook page says she was in New Mexico on Sept. 6, where she has helped to establish oil companies.

“I want to make sure my children’s children will get some oil benefit in the future,” Thang said Tuesday when reached by telephone. She said she’s in the oil business by herself and isn’t working with investors.

The land bureau gives Thang 10 years to develop the leases she purchased. She said she doesn’t have immediate plans to develop them.

Anyone can nominate parcels of federal land to be included in an oil and gas lease sale anonymously, regardless of whether there is evidence that oil exists there.

But Thang said she believes that if land is included in a lease sale, oil must be there to be produced.

“I will have my geologist study more,” she said.

Poor Market Conditions

Nevada over the last two years has become the focus of oil and gas speculators—most of them anonymous—who nominated more than 1.8 million acres of federal land for leasing between 2017 and 2019. Very little of that land has actually been leased.

Nevada is one of the country’s smallest oil and gas producers, ranking 27th nationwide in oil production, just behind New York, according to the Energy Information Administration. State data show that five small oil and gas companies operate in Nevada, which has granted only eight oil and gas well drilling permits statewide since 2016.

Mike Visher, administrator of the Nevada Division of Minerals, said Tuesday he had never heard of Thang, but said speculators buying up federal oil and gas leases there may end up selling them to someone else.

Oil is difficult to produce in Nevada when oil prices are low, and many of the producers operating in the state have shut down their wells following the price crash early this year, Visher said.

It’s generally considered unprofitable to produce oil in Nevada when prices are below $70 per barrel, he said. Prices were about $40 per barrel as of Tuesday afternoon.

“You gotta ask yourself, why would anyone be buying a lease under the current market conditions?” Visher said, adding that he doesn’t expect oil production to increase in Nevada anytime soon.

Degenfelder said Kirkwood is confident Nevada could eventually produce more oil, but too little land is included in oil and gas lease sales for companies to explore the region thoroughly.

(Adds comments from Kirkwood.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Bobby Magill at bmagill@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com; Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergindustry.com

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