By Nichola Groom
(Reuters) – A Myanmar-born perfume entrepreneur and missionary has snapped up nearly half of the oil and gas leases offered by the Trump administration since August, saying the coronavirus pandemic created an opportunity to buy them cheaply.
Levi Sap Nei Thang, who boasts a large social media following and said she is a Christian guided by meditation and prayer, spent more than $1 million bidding on federal drilling leases in 11 states in August and September, according to U.S. Bureau of Land Management sale documents.
The more than 100 leases cover nearly 87,000 acres (35,000 hectares), or 47% of the acreage offered at BLM auctions over five weeks in August and September, according to the documents.
Thang’s prolific buying underscores the relative disinterest of traditional U.S. oil and gas players in investing in new assets amid low prices and weakened demand.
“Nobody is buying now so there is no competition,” Thang said in an interview while driving in Utah on a Western tour focused on oil and gas development and other property ventures. “I don’t go by what people are doing.”
BLM officials did not respond to a request for comment.
Thang’s buying spree, which began in June, included a federal geothermal lease in Washington and drilling leases covering more than 30,000 acres on state lands in New Mexico and Wyoming for which she bid more than $1 million in total.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the trade group Western Energy Alliance, said Thang’s approach “didn’t seem to have much rhyme or reason to it” and said it shouldn’t reflect on the state of the drilling industry.
On her web site, Thang describes herself as an artist, poet and author who writes music in her spare time. A Wikipedia profile says she is a humanitarian and missionary.
Thang said she has developed oil and gas previously, but would not say where or give the name of her other companies. She has not partnered with other investors, she said.
Thang is secretive about her background and personal life. She is married to Daniel Lim, chief executive of the Kansas City mega-church International House of Prayer, according to the church web site.
Thang’s company, Levi Sap Nei Thang LLC, was registered in Wyoming in July, but she said she has offices in seven states. Her cosmetics business is based in Los Angeles, and a foundation she runs in honor of her deceased daughter is based in Missouri.
All of her endeavors, Thang said, are geared toward her work helping others in her home country of Myanmar and elsewhere.
“I don’t do this for my own benefit,” she said. “I don’t call myself a business person.”
Her oil and gas ventures are meant to benefit her “children’s children” far into the future, she said.
Thang said she is not concerned about presidential candidate Joe Biden’s pledge to end new drilling on federal lands if he is elected next month, saying the U.S. needs domestic oil supplies so it is not dependent on imports.
The self-decribed “dreamer” said she would accept whatever happened, however.
“If they don’t allow me, I will not,” she said.