Apache has turned its legal guns on Tallaganda gas discovery partner Tap Oil as the Houston-based petroleum group looks to retreat to its homeland.
Apache is trying to claw back $US4.15 million ($4.4 million), plus interest, that Tap allegedly pocketed from dealings in 2011 also involving the long-time Carnarvon Basin project majority partner BHP Billiton Petroleum.
At the centre of the battle are interpretations of a $30.15 million agreement struck in July, 2011, that saw Tap sell a 25 per cent stake in Tallaganda permit WA-351-P to BHP. BHP agreed to on-sell the 25 per cent stake to Apache on the same day.
BHP Billiton, the project's 55 per cent owner, had used its pre-emptive rights under its joint venture agreement with Tap to buy the 25 per cent stake after the West Perth-based group had agreed to sell the holding to the MIMI LNG consortium for a reported $US30.1 million.
Apache's legal action was filed in the WA Supreme Court last week as a team from Perth-based oil and gas group Woodside were understood to be evaluating Apache's projects outside of the US.
Apache has been tight-lipped about the potential sale of its non-US assets, including its attractive WA domestic gas unit and its North Sea oil assets.
The Texas group is no stranger to litigation, being caught up in an array of legal spats over the Varanus Island gas explosion in 2008.
The legal action against Tap centres on a $US4.15 million license fee payment made by BHP to Tap as part of the 2011 dealings, which left Tap with a 20 per cent stake in WA-351-P.
According to the Apache writ, the money was payment for Tap getting BHP a seismic license agreement with geotechnical services group WesternGeco on substantially the same terms as enjoyed by Tap.
Apache says in its writ that its deal with BHP expressly included the licence fee payment.
However, Apache says that WesternGeco had not required that a new licence be issued or any money to be handed over because BHP was an existing joint venture partner.
Apache claims Tap has received the benefit of the licence fee payment at its expense and it would be unjust for the West Perth-based group to keep the $US4.15 million.
It is making several claims for redress, including damages and interest.
A spokesman for Apache said the group did not discuss matters before the courts.
Tap Oil commercial manager Anna Sudlow declined to comment last night.