Shareholders in New Zealand Oil & Gas remain divided, with none of the rebel board candidates nominated as a vote against major shareholder OG Oil & Gas attracting more than 7.5 per cent support at today's annual meeting.
Investors, still angry at the firm's handling of the scheme of arrangement with OGOG they rejected last month, were surprisingly muted during the 90-minute meeting in Wellington.
James Dunphy, a relatively recent shareholder but a vocal opponent of the scheme, dominated questions from the floor, challenging everything from the time allocated for the meeting to the capability of the firm's independent directors.
He challenged the board to justify what he considered their overly negative view of the Ironbark prospect off Australia's north-west coast and questioned director and OG Energy chief executive Alastair McGregor on the board's ability to act in the interests of all the firm's shareholders.
"Why does it take a failed scheme of arrangement to set a strategy for the company?"
NZOG is owned 70 per cent by OGOG, an arm of global investor Ofer Global. It acquired the bulk of its holding in late 2017, pledging to pursue development of NZOG's exploration interests in Australian and New Zealand.
But those options have been dead in the water since the government's shock ban in April 2018 on the issuing of new offshore exploration acreage.
As McGregor noted, NZOG has approached more than 80 potential parties for its two exploration permits in New Zealand but it has been impossible to make progress.
"We've had it said to our face: as far as they are concerned New Zealand is closed for business to the oil and gas industry."
Avryl Bramley, a shareholder since 1984, also raised her concern at the potential for "lopsided" skills sets across the independent and OGOG-related directors and the risk that presented to the interests of minority holders.
"How do we know that the strategy going forward is not in fact being dominated by the needs of the major shareholder?"
Chair Sam Kellner today reiterated the commitment to a strategic review made last month after minority holders dumped the 74 cents-a-share scheme of arrangement. Shareholders at that meeting appeared mixed between those happy to sell out for a higher price and those who after many years of little exploration success were determined to remain on board for the drilling of the potentially world-class, but high-risk, Ironbark prospect next year.
That process, Kellner said, had demonstrated the "many different views but no clear consensus" among shareholders.
"A key objective of the strategic review will be to develop a new direction for the company that takes those disparate views into account," he said earlier in the meeting.
NZOG shares fell 0.8 per cent to 61 cents, trimming their gain so far this year to about 22 per cent. The stock had been trading at less than 50 cents before the scheme was proposed in July.
McGregor told the meeting that he has already been in touch with many of the top 10 shareholders. The board will try and establish whether there is a consensus "but it's not going to happen overnight."
Shareholders Samantha Sharif and Brian Roulston stood unsuccessfully for the position of Rod Ritchie, one of the two independent directors who had recommended the scheme of arrangement at the initial 62 cents a share price – the very bottom of a valuation range provided by Northington Partners.
Ritchie, a director since 2013, garnered 90.5 per cent of the votes cast, with the backing of OGOG. Sharif achieved almost 5 per cent; Roulston 7.5 per cent.
Roulston, a former company secretary at NZOG, said the firm's handling of the scheme of arrangement had been "naïve".
Investors still on the register today are here to take part in petroleum exploration but "for years and years and years now that just hasn't happened."
He said the firm's handling of the scheme of arrangement, poor performance by Northington, and a lack of action by the Takeovers Panel had all contributed to investors' loss of confidence in the independent directors.
"But the point is the independent directors were the ones in charge and responsible," he told about 30 shareholders at the meeting
"That 63 per cent of minority shares were voted against the offer must be almost unprecedented and is certainly a resounding response."