Exxon Mobil's unconventional gas play in Victoria could be floated on the ASX, as companies continue to position themselves ahead of a possible opening of Victorian and NSW land to the controversial energy industry.
The American petroleum company has formed an early-stage joint venture with unlisted Ignite Energy in Victoria, and Ignite boss Len Humphreys said the possibility of floating the venture on the ASX had been discussed.
"That continues to be under consideration," he said. "We are a publicly unlisted company, so that means we have quite a significant base of shareholders, and like all shareholders, their interest is in their return on their investment."
Exxon paid $12.5 million in 2012 for a 10 per cent stake in the joint venture, and has the right to increase its ownership to 51 per cent if it spends $50 million on exploring the permit in in Gippsland.
Aside from the joint venture with Exxon, Ignite has a coal play and a biofuels play, and Mr Humphreys said all three could be floated.
"Whether we list all three or whether we separate out individuals, that is always under consideration, depending on market conditions and market appetites. We have had discussions with them [Exxon] and they have asked us if we do move forward on that direction to have more clear, definitive discussions."
Talk of a float for the onshore gas play comes after weeks of pressure on the Victorian and NSW governments to embrace the sort of unconventional gas boom that has occurred in Queensland.
The term "unconventional" oil and gas is often used as a proxy for shale fracking, where water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to fracture rocks and release oil or gas. But the term can also refer to other types of gas extraction, such as coal seam gas and tight gas.
The Victorian government's gas adviser Peter Reith last week urged the removal of a moratorium on unconventional gas production, but the government appears torn over the issue and may defer a decision until after the next election in November 2014.
Exxon has previously lamented that the debate over unconventional gas is too often dominated by people who are not experts in the field, but the company declined to comment on the likelihood of floating the joint venture with Ignite.
Mr Humphreys said it was too early to know whether the joint venture would be commercially viable.
"We've now come to the end of our desktop and asset evaluation phase; now, we are entering a new phase of community consultation and taking it further over the next 12 to 24 months with a plan to look at up to about seven exploratory wells to try to see if there is a commercially recoverable and commercially viable project to be done."
He said discussions with landowners near the permit were under way.
Meanwhile, the most advanced player in the Victorian unconventional oil and gas sector, ASX-listed Lakes Oil, has announced a new partnership with a subsidiary of Chinese giant Sinopec.
Lakes, which boasts Gina Rinehart on its share register, announced on Monday it had struck a memorandum of understanding with the group, known as China Shengli Oilfield Longxi Petroleum Engineering Company.
Lakes Oil boss Robert Annells urged the government to put aside politics and make the right moves for Victoria's energy future.