By Fred Akanni, in Libreville
Gabon has been out in the cold since I lit onset of the contemporary phase of deepwater exploration in the Gulf Of Guinea This is what the deepwater bid round, scheduled to kick off in May 2010, is about to change.. Gabonese authorities believe that the country’s deepwater acquatory has never been properly explored.
The country was producing it around 350,000Barrels of Oil Per Day (BOPD), about the highest in its production history, in the mid I 990s, when countries like Nigeria nod Angola started witnessing a series of spectacular discoveries in water depths outboard of 750 metres. As Gabon shares the prolific Congo basin with Angola, and was the third largest oil producer in sub-Saharan Africa, it was expected to be part of the game. But the wildcats that were later drilled in deepwater Gabon in the first few years of the 21st century failed in a big way.
- In 2001, a consortium led by TOTAL drilled Judy 1, Genny 1 and Renee 1 to 4806metres, 4793metres and 4047metres respectively, all very deep wells, in the Astrid Marin acreage. They were all located in excess of 2000metre Water Depth. They were all disappointingly dry holes.
- Inshore, in the Anton Marin acreage, Jeane-1 was drilled to 2882mTD in water depth of I ,500m. It was also a dry hole.
As these wells were all located in the lower Congo Basin, where operators in Angola had been having a field day harvesting giant oil fields, it was beginning to look like Gabon might not be part of the West African deepwater party.
But Agip wasn’t so sure. The Italian major picked up a lease northwards in deep offshore Ogooue Delta, part of the Gsbon Coastal Basin. This was even a riskier spot; unlike the broad, gentle slope from shallow water to deepwater in the Lower Congo basin, the descent to deep offshore is rather abrupt. In 2002, Agip came up dry at a TD of 2,882m in Powe Marin 1, drilled in 1,000m Water Depth on the Awoure lease.
In 2005 Amerada Hess, running on adrenalin from its successful foray in deepwater Equatorial Guinea, drilled two equally disappointing wells in deep offshore Ogooue Delta.
So what happened?
There have been explanations for the poor results in the Gabonese deepwater segment of the Oogue and the Lower Congo Basins.
• The Ogooue Delta is not formed by the kind of large sized rivers like the Congo River which birthed the Congo Basin, or the Niger and Benue rivers which created the Niger Delta.
• The part of the lower Congo Basin that is in deepwater Gabon contains the obligatory hydrocarbon source, but it is buried too deep and the apparent lack of structuration disallows the source to adequately charge the reservoirs. Seismic data doesn’t suggest the presence of large scale canyons that could help deliver products of turbiditic flows into the deeper waters. There have been questions about of whether the direction of flow of the Benguela currents, which impact sediment movement on the Nigerian coast for example, could have anything to do with the possible lack of commercial hydrocarbon reservoirs in deepwater Gabon. The jury is still out on that.
Gabonese authorities, aided by IHS energy, a firm of industry scouts, say that there is enough information in hand for the bid round to aid operating companies in determining the best locations for sizeable reserves of oil. A survey by CGG Veritas, launched in March 2009, includes more than 9600km of 2D seismic in Gabon’s southern and northern offshore zones, as well as a proposed 4,500 sqkm of 3D and 2D data in the southern zone.
Gabon desperately needs to shore up production, which has declined from 365,000BOPD in 1995, to 234,000BOPD in 2008.