‘Pre-salt’ is usually a term associated with Brazil, where giant offshore field discoveries in the Santos and Campos basins have been grabbing headlines since 2007. Now oil companies are looking across the ocean for their pre-salt game. Conjugate basins offshore Gabon, Congo and Angola could be as juicy as the Santos and Campos pre-salt plays have proved. Following a number of recent scores by Cobalt, Eni, Harvest, Maersk and Total, the hunt is on.

Gearing Up

As the Graph of the Month shows, 16 wells targeting West African pre-salt reservoirs have been drilled since start 2011 with a success rate of 75%: 9 offshore Angola, 6 off Gabon and one off Congo. Oil from West African pre-salt was in fact first found in 1968. Its prospective yield was not appreciated though, as only recently did seismic imaging become able to give an accurate picture of the pre-salt. The ultra-deepwater of Angola’s Kwanza Basin also inhibited pre-salt exploration before sixth generation floaters. But, as Brazil has shown, operators now have all the technology they need to pursue the pre-salt.

Hunting Elephants

Some 27 future pre-salt wells are reportedly planned by oil companies or are anticipated through to end 2015, as the Graph of the Month shows. Four of these wells have been spudded. Often smaller E&P companies play a vital role in opening up new frontiers. In West Africa though, supermajors and other large players are already loading up. Conoco has 4 planned wells; Repsol, 3; Eni, 2; Shell, 2; and Total, 2. Of the 27 wells, 70% are offshore Angola and will therefore be in water depths ranging from 800-2,000m. The remainder are to be spudded off Gabon, likely in water depths up to 300m. In either case, companies will be hoping to hit world-class finds, like Cobalt’s Cameia discovery, which is expected to be brought onstream at 80-120,000 bpd in 2017.

Fieldcraft

So, the West African pre-salt play is still in the early stages of exploration and appraisal. If it proves prolific though, and if operators can bring it to fruition, a pre-salt bonanza would more than offset production decline from West Africa’s mature fields. With less stringent local content requirements and more international oil company control, development may be less fraught than in Brazil. Cobalt have already announced plans for 3 multi-field pre-salt hubs centred around the Cameia, Lontra and Orca fields offshore Angola. Given that the average water depth of Angolan pre-salt wells is 1,274m, MOPU solutions are likely to be favoured. The previous caveats noted, the FPSO ordering boom in Brazil could be replicated in Angola, which already accounts for 23% of world FPSO deployment (second to Brazil). In the shallower waters off Gabon, fixed platform solutions are probable, if finds reach the development stage.

In the near term then, the pre-salt safari offshore Africa looks to be an exciting campaign, with potential to generate even more interest in the region and hence opportunities for survey vessel and rig owners. Out towards the end of the decade, Angola could be the new Brazil, with pre-salt development contracts abounding.

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