Angola steps up pre-salt drilling to emulate Brazil

October 30, 2013 | Licensing & Concessions

Sonangol Head Office in Luanda

Sonangol Head Office in Luanda

Luanda (Bloomberg) – Oil explorers in Angola, Africa’s largest crude producer after Nigeria, will drill almost half of their offshore wells next year beneath a layer of salt under the seafloor, according to state energy company SonangolEP.

The explorers want to test the theory that the geology off Angola’s coast mirrors that off Brazil, where multibillion-barrel finds have been made, Domingos Cunha, head of integration at Luanda-based Sonangol, said today in an interview.

Brazil’s Petroleo Brasileiro SA found crude trapped under a layer of salt deep below Brazil’s seabed in 2007. Drillers are betting that recent discoveries off Angola will reveal similar structures to those on the other side of the Atlantic, where Petrobras is now developing the Western Hemisphere’s largest oil finds in three decades, estimated at 20 billion barrels.

There are 32 wells planned off Angola in 2014 including 15 in the so-called pre-salt rock strata, Cunha said in Luanda, the capital. That compares with only two pre-salt wells this year. “The average number of wells from 2014 to 2022 is going to be around 25 a year overall, not just pre-salt,” he said.

The Petrobras XXIII drilling unit

The Petrobras XXIII drilling unit

The deepwater drilling campaign is the country’s biggest, according to consultants Wood Mackenzie Ltd., which said in August that explorers will invest at least $3 billion in wells off Angola next year. BP Plc, Statoil ASA and ConocoPhillips are among companies there seeking to replicate Brazil’s success.

The South American and African continents began to separate 120 million years ago and seismic data show similar oil-bearing structures under miles of ocean and seafloor, Dilo Sa, a geophysicist at BP, said today at a Luanda conference.

Bidding Rounds

“Results we have so far show similar oil quality in Angola and Brazil,” Cunha said.

Angola will hold a bidding round for 12 mostly deep and ultra-deep offshore blocks in the southern Namibe basin in 2015, he said. Administration for bidding on 15 onshore blocks in the Kwanza basin south of Luanda is under way and Sonangol will determine soon if a roadshow to market the round will occur this year, before concessions are awarded in 2014, he said.

Angola’s oil output could double within 15 years if the pre-salt area takes off, Tako Koning, a geologist at Gaffney, Cline & Associates, said last year. By mid-to-end 2014, there’ll be a “strong indication” of whether that’s achievable, Koning said today at the conference.

The length of Angola’s pre-salt area is similar to Brazil’s at about 700 kilometres (435 miles), he said. Angola produced 1.78 million barrels of oil a day last year, according to BP’s statistical review.