Archives for category: Fields

To much fanfare and accompanied by voluminous industry coverage, Mexico recently concluded Round 1.4, the country’s first ever deepwater licensing round. However, Mexico’s shallow waters may yet have a future too: Bay of Campeche reserves remain considerable and indeed, the country’s third shallow water bid round is ongoing. It is therefore worth reviewing the current state of shallow water E&P in Mexico.

Veering Off Course

Mexican offshore oil is currently produced entirely from shallow water fields, as has always been the case. The key sources of Mexican offshore oil have been several large field complexes such as Cantarell and Ku-Maloob-Zaap. As these fields and others came online, the country’s offshore oil output grew with a robust CAGR of 6.6% from 1980 to 2004, reaching a peak of 2.83m bpd in 2004. As the graph implies, four complexes accounted for 93% of this production. Decline set in thereafter at ageing fields (production at Cantarell began at the Akal field in 1979). Pemex – the sole operator of Mexican offshore fields prior to 2014 – tried to halt production decline, but with little success, given budget and technical constraints. Thus by 2013, offshore oil production at the four key field complexes had fallen to 1.31m bpd, accounting for 69% of Mexico’s offshore oil production of 1.90m bpd.

Getting Back On Track

This situation prompted President Peña Nieto’s government to initiate energy sector reforms in 2013, opening up the country’s upstream sector to foreign companies for the first time since 1938. Pemex was granted 83% of Mexican 2P reserves in “Round Zero” in 2014. The first shallow water round, Round 1.1, followed in December 2014. Only two of 14 blocks were awarded though, reportedly due to unfavourable fiscal terms inhibiting bidding by oil companies. The authorities then improved terms before launching Round 1.2 (shallow water), Round 1.3 (onshore) and Round 1.4 in 2015. Round 1.2 was better received than 1.1: as per the inset, 60% of blocks were awarded (75% of the km2 area on offer). One of the round’s victors, Eni, has already been granted permission to drill four appraisal wells on Block 1.

Turning Things Around?

In light of these positives, there are high hopes for Round 2.1, a shallow water round launched in July 2016. Indeed, 10 out of the 15 Round 2.1 blocks are in the prolific Sureste Basin, home to the Cantarell complex. Eight of these ten areas are unexplored, so there is sizeable upside potential, and have been mapped with 3D seismic, so operators could begin drilling promptly. Moreover, the surface area of the blocks in Round 2.1 are twice that of Round 1.1. It should also be noted that according to a 2016 IEA study, Mexico’s shallow waters still account for 29% of the country’s remaining technically recoverable oil resources. Finally, with rates for a high spec jack-up in the GoM assessed at about $85-90,000/day in January 2017, down 45% on three years ago, some oil companies might be tempted to make a move on a round that could offer a relatively low cost means to grow oil reserves and production.

So arguably, Mexican shallow water E&P is on the road again. There are potential hazards of course, such as oil price volatility or Mexico’s relationship with the US. But it is not implausible to think that Mexican shallow water oil production might speed up again in the coming years.


Plagued by constant blackouts and power shortages, Egypt appears to be facing its worst energy crisis in decades. However, following the historic discovery of the giant gas field Zohr offshore Egypt in August this year and revived interest from IOCs, it seems that the tables are set to turn. Indeed, after a period of gas production decline, Egypt’s energy outlook is getting increasingly bright.

Slide Down The Gas Pyramid

Until recently, Egypt’s gas production story had been one of growth: production climbed from 1.68 to 5.76 bn cfd between 2000-2009 and in 2003, it was sufficient to kick-start LNG exports. However, a combination of political unrest (notably the Arab Spring of 2011) and rising population has resulted in natural gas supply shortages over the last 5 years. Domestic gas demand has on average grown by 8% y-o-y, eventually outstripping supply. As a result, Egypt has been forced to re-route LNG destined for exports to domestic consumption. Indeed, at the start of 2014, BG announced it was breaking its contracts because it was unable to export enough gas. This year, Egypt resorted to importing LNG from Qatar – a bitter moment for the previous exporter.

Enter Zohr

They say that when you hit bottom, the only way is up and for Egypt, this seems to be the case. Earlier this year, ENI made what is believed to be the largest ever gas discovery in the Mediterranean, named Zohr. The field is part of the Levantine Basin, home to other prolific gas finds such as the Israeli Leviathan field. ENI puts the find down to different use of sequencing models, concentrating on carbonate rather than classical sand reservoirs. The gas giant (estimated to hold 30 tcf of lean gas) is located in water depths of 1,450m, providing an exciting departure from typical shallow exploration of mature basins in the region. Additionally, BP announced a $12 billion investment in Egypt’s West Nile Delta project: another deepwater discovery with 5 tcf of gas resources. A move to deeper waters creates opportunity for subsea development, the current production solution of choice in all of the country’s active deepwater fields. Out of the 68 active subsea units in Egypt, 40 are operated by ENI and 8 by BP. It is likely that these operators will continue to implement subsea development in their future projects.

Clash Of The Giants

Elsewhere, the discovery of Zohr was not such welcome news. There were plans to import gas via a pipeline from the Tamar field and (once in production) the competing gas giant, Leviathan, in Israel. Plans for the Leviathan field will now have to be redrawn and potentially accelerated if Israel wants a claim of the region’s LNG exports. However, following extensive regulatory and anti-trust objections, its start-up date remains uncertain.

Nevertheless, it is clear that Egypt’s fortunes are turning. The Zohr discovery, alongside other scheduled start-ups, will strengthen Egypt’s energy balance in the long-term. And the story does not end here: it has been reported that there are 7 other deepwater blocks with similar lithology to ENI’s. There is evidently a revived interest in the Levantine basin, as IOCs begin to wonder where the next giant could be hiding.


On July 14th 2015, after 20 months of negotiations, Iran and the so-called “P5+1” signed the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”: in return for US, EU and UN-mandated sanctions against the country being gradually lifted, Iran has agreed to roll back its nuclear capabilities. Should the deal stick, the door will open to foreign investment once more. What, then, are the possible implications for Iranian offshore oil? Should this deal stick, IOCs will soon be able to operate in Iran once more. What, then, are the possible implications for Iran’s offshore sector?

Political Locks

On the eve of the Islamic Revolution in 1979, total Iranian oil production stood at 6.0m bpd, of which around 12% (0.72m bpd) was from 13 offshore fields producing oil, all located in shallow waters and exploited via fixed platforms. The turmoil of the Revolution saw oil production drop to 1.70m bpd in 1980, and in the ensuing Iran-Iraq War, offshore fields like Salman were shut in due to military action. As a result, actual offshore oil production was less than 50% of capacity for most of the 1980s; after the War, production began to recover, peaking at 88% of capacity (0.60m bpd) in 1997. However, as US and then EU economic sanctions on Iran tightened, IOCs were forced to exit the country, depriving Iran’s offshore sector of key investment and technology. Development work slowed and much of Iran’s offshore 2P reserves (30.3bn bbl of oil; 707 tcf of gas) were locked away. At the same time, Iran lacked the resources to implement EOR at brownfields. As a result, the gap between actual and nameplate offshore production was 1.38m bpd by 2014, with production at 0.54m bpd.

Rusty Hinges

Now that sanctions are to be lifted, indications suggest Iran aims to get as much oil production as possible back onstream in 2015/16. Restoring offshore production is likely to require more than just turning the taps though. Iran’s ability to halt decline at brownfields has been curbed, in contrast to other mature producers like the U.A.E. Half of Iran’s active offshore oil fields predate the Revolution (the oldest started up in 1961). Extensive EOR work is likely to be required at such fields – one opportunity for IOCs. Thus, while offshore production is forecast to grow by 7.3% in 2015, this is mostly due to South Pars condensate production ramping up, rather than utilisation of older capacity.

An Alternative Entrance?

Iran is planning an “oil contract roadshow” in London in 2H 2015, with the stated aim of attracting foreign investment in E&P of $185 billion by 2020. However, it is likely that much of the investment will be directed towards stalled onshore projects such as Yadavaran, and to restoring production at mature onshore fields like Azadegan. A spate of onshore discoveries made from 2006 to 2008 may also be prioritised by cash-hungry Iran, particularly those in the Khuzestan province spanning the Iraq border. Some of Iran’s 7 undeveloped offshore fields like Esfandiar (532m bbl) may warrant priority, and the South Pars Oil Layer is scheduled to come onstream in 2018. But even taking into account the Caspian (home to the 2011 Sardar-e Jangal 500m bbl find), offshore oil opportunities for IOCs (and so vessel owners) may be limited at first.

It seems, then, that the offshore oil capacity gap could widen before it narrows. Certainly given its reserves Iran has long-term offshore potential, notwithstanding its troubled history. But observers expecting a quick and big uptick in oil-related offshore activity might need to be patient.


For many of the markets covered by Shipping Intelligence Weekly, the first part of 2015 was relatively kind. Rates for crude and product tankers were riding high, boxship charter rates picked up for the first time in years and VLGC rates have hit levels above 2014 averages. Even Capesizes have recently shown signs of life. But spare a thought for the offshore sector, the hardest hit by the oil price decline.

Price Drop

Back in the downturn of 2008/09, most commodity and shipping markets felt the negative impact and the offshore markets were no exception, with dayrates dropping by an average of around 35% (see graph).  Moving forward to the current time, however, the 50% decline in oil prices since mid-2014 has brought some relief for merchant vessels, in the form of cheaper bunkers, and stimulated oil demand, helping trade. But cheaper oil has meanwhile put heavy pressure on the offshore sector, where field operators already faced cashflow problems as field developments ran late and over-budget. The response has been sharp cuts in exploration and production (E&P) budgets. It is estimated that spending on offshore E&P will fall by 19% this year.

Investment Cuts

This means investment decisions on new projects have been deferred, whilst expenditure to enhance recovery from existing fields has also slipped. Accordingly, drilling demand has fallen, just as deliveries of new jack-up and floating drilling rigs have accelerated. Rates for ultra-deepwater floaters are now almost 50% below their late 2013 peak, at around $300,000/day. This reflects the reduced demand in frontier areas for exploration and appraisal drilling, not helped by the corruption investigations in Brazil. Meanwhile, jack-up drilling rig rates have been equally hard hit, with shale gas production killing demand in one of their traditional major markets, the shallow water Gulf of Mexico. Utilisation of jack-ups is below 80%, and rates have fallen more than 35% to around $100,000/day.

Less Support For Vessels

This has had rapid knock-on consequences. The 5,365 vessels and 1,133 owners in the OSV market are also exposed to the downturn in exploration drilling and operational field maintenance. Fewer active rigs harms the AHTS market for rig towage and positioning, whilst PSVs rely on the growth in active offshore installations (drilling rigs, plus mobile and fixed production platforms) to add to demand. Rates for OSVs are down in all regions, by over 35% on average in terms of the index on the graph. PSVs have a further problem of a robust supply growth to contend with (and close to 40% of the fleet on order for the largest units over 4,000 dwt).

Of course, markets are cyclical, and the offshore sector had its moment in the sun during 2012/13, at a time when several of the merchant shipping markets were in the doldrums. Although the current oversupply in world oil markets of around 1.5m bpd is a clear short-term hurdle, projected demand trends suggest that higher oil prices remain a likely prospect in the long-term, and the improvement in other sectors suggests that there will eventually be light at the end of the tunnel for offshore too. It’s just that it could be a little way off yet. Have a nice day.

E&P offshore India can be divided into two very distinct species of activity: the one species is typified by shallow water exploration using jack-up drilling rigs, and by multi-phase fixed platform developments; the other species by ultra-deepwater exploration using floaters. The first is concentrated off the west coast, the second off the east coast. But when it comes to CAPEX, which species of activity sits at the top of the food chain in these lean times?

Shallow Water Ancestry

Mumbai High is the ancestor and primordial archetype of the vast majority of field developments offshore India today. Discovered in 1974 in the Mumbai Basin off the country’s west coast, the field was brought onstream in 1976 and was initially exploited via 4 fixed platforms in water depths of around 85m. Subsequent expansions have seen this number rise to 159, with 8 more platforms being fabricated for the Ph.3 redevelopment projects at the field. For the first 30 years of Indian offshore E&P, exploration was focused in the Mumbai Basin while development followed the pattern at Mumbai High. Hence, as of July 2015, 94 fields had been discovered off India’s west coast, all in shallow waters, accounting for 48% of Indian offshore discoveries. Of these 94 fields, 39 are active and 11 are under development. The basin also accounts for 301 active fixed platforms, as well as 13% (18 units) of the jack-up fleet in the Middle East/ISC region. With EOR and redevelopment work underway, the Mumbai Basin remains an important area of offshore activity.

Deepwater Diversification

However, since 2002 the Indian offshore sector has bifurcated to produce a very different species of offshore activity. Exploration campaigns in the east coast Krishna Godavari Basin resulted in 50 new discoveries in water depths >500m (and 51 shallow water finds). Amongst these was KG-DWN-2005/1-A, a field in a water depth of 3,166m, making it the deepest find (in terms of water depth) to date globally. At the height of KG Basin exploration, 12 floaters were active in the country. All this being said, Indian deepwater activity is much less advanced than shallow water E&P: just two deepwater fields are in production and none are currently under development. As a corollary, there are almost no subsea installations offshore India and just one active MOPU.

An Evolutionary Hiatus?

There are, however, 25 ‘probable’ deepwater field developments, including some potentially prolific fields. However, development seems to have been inhibited by the example of KG-D6 (Dhirubhai 1&3), a deepwater (850m) gas field which has shown precipitous production decline. India’s offshore sector is also dominated by indigenous companies like the government-controlled ONGC, who seemingly lack the deepwater technological or operational expertise of many IOCs. At the same time, there are still 88 potential shallow water fields, as well as plenty of scope for EOR at older fields – the sort of projects where Indian oil companies have substantial experience.

Opening up of the upstream sector, as is being attempted in Mexico, might be one means to adapt to the challenges of the “P” of deepwater E&P in India. However, this does not appear to be on the cards for the immediate future. So for the time being, given the hostile conditions of the weaker oil price environment, shallow water activity seems set to thrive best.


Over the hill; past its peak; long in the tooth: like a worn-out old racehorse, the North Sea E&P sector is sometimes discussed in disparaging terms. In recent years however, it has been making something of a comeback, gaining ground when it comes to exploration and at least holding steady-ish when it comes to production. The question is, can this pace be sustained in the current oil price environment?

Saddling Up

The UK and Norway have long been the front-runners when it comes to offshore activity in the North Sea. In the 1970s, an average of 187 offshore wells were spudded per year in UK and Norwegian waters. As the graph shows, in the years 1970-76, more than 50% of these were exploration wells. Production was low (0.85m boepd in 1975), as few of the discoveries made since the first find in 1965 had been developed. But then in 1976, Brent started up, with Ekofisk following in 1977. During the course of bringing these and other large fields onstream, appraisal and development drilling raced ahead of exploration; from 1990, the number of exploration wells drilled each year began falling too. Field operators were now focusing on production over exploration. The two countries’ offshore production peaked in 2002 at 8.64m boepd from 337 fields. This year was also the nadir for exploration drilling: of 503 wells spudded, just 32 (6.4%) were exploration wells.

Second Wind

Oil companies therefore found total production falling just as reserves were being replaced at the slowest rate since North Sea exploration began. The more prudent then applied the spur to exploration once more, even as they tried to stop production decline using EOR. Exploration in the years 2003-14 in the central North Sea met with some notable successes, like the giant Johan Sverdrup discovery in 2010, with 2P reserves of 2.2bn bbl oil and 394bn cf gas. Operators also began venturing into the mostly unexplored Barents Sea and west of Shetlands waters. Hence, in 2014, 27% of wells spudded in UK or Norwegian waters were for exploration, a share similar to the late 1980s. Production, meanwhile, fell by only 0.8% y-o-y, versus the average y-o-y decline over 2002-14 of 3.9%.

The Final Furlong?

The area’s offshore sector was thus moving at a relatively good pace. However, 2014 exploration campaigns and most incipient development projects were conceived in a more robust oil price environment than the present: E&P economics in frontier areas like the Barents Sea are highly uncertain while the oil price is less than $80/bbl. Perhaps then, with oil company spending cuts, the recovery in exploration will be stopped in its tracks and production decline may resume. On the other hand, some smaller operators are taking advantage of low rig and OSV day rates to increase exploration. Falling EPC costs could also help to reduce development project breakevens, flogging North Sea E&P onwards once more. And if the oil price were to return to $100/bbl+, then there is the potential for further upside.

So there you have it. The weaker oil price has made some oil companies pull on the reins, but there is still potential for the second burst of North Sea E&P activity to run on, in the right conditions. The area may no longer be the fiery colt of offshore E&P, but it probably has some way to run yet before being put out to pasture.


Since 1970, 179 offshore gas fields have been discovered in the Browse and Carnarvon Basins of Australia’s Northwest Shelf. From around 2005, as offshore technology advanced and Asian gas demand rose, operators hatched plans of monstrous magnitudes for these fields. However, in an environment of low oil prices and E&P spending cuts, some of these offshore behemoths now look more endangered.

Taming The Seas

The Australian NW Shelf accounts for about 15% of offshore projects globally with CAPEX of over $5bn. NW Shelf projects tend to be capital intensive, in part because they are remote, with an average distance to shore of 161km. Development thus entails long export pipelines (889km for Ichthys, for example) to onshore LNG plants, or as yet unproven FLNG technology. CAPEX in turn contributes to high project breakeven prices, as does OPEX: for example, OSVs make longer trips for far-from-shore projects. Until recently, high project breakevens stymied final investment decisions (FIDs). However, due in part to cost-saving subsea and cryo-technology, in 2007, Chevron approved Greater Gorgon, a $37bn multi-field project with reserves of 40 tcf. Subsequently, 11 more projects received positive FIDS, including Prelude ($12bn), Pluto ($16bn) and Wheatstone ($29bn).

Teething Problems

Since 2007, 4 of these projects have come onstream and the other 8 are due to begin ramping up 2015-17. However, these 12 projects have not been without their problems. Greater Gorgon, for instance, was first scheduled to start up in 2H 2014, rather than 2H 2015; CAPEX has risen by 49% to $55bn. Meanwhile projects yet to be sanctioned have seen FIDs delayed by operators trying to cut costs. Scarborough, a mooted $19bn FLNG development 286km from shore (which has now been delayed again due to the fall in the oil price) underwent multiple FEED studies following the 2010 pre-FEED. Before circumstances changed, a 2019 start-up briefly looked likely.

Monsters Have Feelings Too

NW Shelf gas projects are thought to be some of the more sensitive globally to the change in the oil price since mid-2014. Greater Gorgon’s breakeven is relatively low for the area, but still stands at $67/boe. Projects further from shore are thought to have higher breakevens, in the $80-100/boe range. No Australian project more than 250km from shore has passed FID, though 50% of those yet to reach EPC exceed this distance, casting doubts on their viability. Since the fall in the oil price, Scarborough’s FID has been postponed to 2017/18; start-up before 2023 is considered unlikely. Other projects facing fresh feasibility concerns include Equus, Browse, Greater Sunrise, Crux and Cash Maple. Indeed, the average slippage for such projects already stands at 40 months. Many may not now come onstream before 2023 and a paucity of start-ups is anticipated in the mid-term, 2018-22, due to delayed FIDs 2014-17.

Clearly, then, remote Australian mega-projects are subject to high costs and breakevens, which increases slippage risk. That being said, the long-term fundamentals of energy-hungry non-OECD economies still suggest remaining NW Shelf gas will be viable eventually. These mammoth projects are not extinct yet.