After years of budget cuts, oil and gas companies are finally stepping up their exploration game and several wildcat wells planned for 2019 have the potential to be “elephant” finds, according to Norwegian oil and gas intelligence firm Rystad Energy.

Upstream Wells Drilling Offshore USWA Seadrill Africa Senegal MSGBC
West Hercules, the rig in charge of drilling the Gjokasen well/ Image source: Seadrill

Rystad said on Tuesday that improved market conditions and lower well costs led E&P players to ramp up their 2019 exploration activities in all parts of the world, driven in particular by rising investments in South America and Africa.

Rystad Energy senior analyst Rohit Patel said: “Renewed optimism in exploration activities is anticipated in 2019, with operators from various segments aiming for multiple high-impact campaigns – both onshore and offshore – in essentially all corners of the world.

“These include wells targeting large prospects, play openers, wells in frontier and emerging basins, and operator communicated high impact wells.”

Exploration Wells Drilling Offshore
Wells to keep a close eye on

Off the coast of Papua New Guinea, the Mailu-1 well will target a giant carbonate oil prospect which could open a new ultra-deep offshore play.

In Pakistan, Eni is gunning for a potential 1.5 billion-barrel prize with its Kekra-1 wildcat, the first ultra-deepwater well in the country in more than ten years.

In the Mediterranean, Dana Gas plans to make its debut as an offshore operator with the Merak deepwater well in Egyptian waters. To the west, Chariot Oil & Gas will attempt to unlock 637 million boe in potential resources with the Moh-B well off the coast of Morocco.

In Ghana, the Central Tano-1 well is classified as a large prospective resource with an estimated potential of up to 2.3 billion barrels of oil.

Off the coast of Namibia, Total aims to drill the Venus prospect with the deepest well ever drilled in Africa. Venus, which is also considered to be the largest prospect ever in Namibia, is located in a giant basin floor fan of the Orange Basin.

In the Barents Sea, north of Norway, Lundin could open up a new play with its Setter-Pointer well. Farther to the east, Equinor is targeting an estimated 764 million boe with the Gjokasen well.

In British waters, Hurricane Energy will drill a deep-water well west of the Shetland Islands. The pre-drill estimate stands at 935 million boe, and the company has indicated a 77% chance of success.

The Dunquin South well off the coast of Ireland is expected to target the lower Cretaceous-aged carbonate reservoirs at water depths of 1,500 meters. The pre-drill estimate is up to 1.4 billion barrels of oil.

In the Gulf of Mexico, Total will target the ultra-deepwater Etzil prospect, which has a whopping 2.7 billion boe pre-drill resource estimate.

Farther south, Total will invest an estimated $114 million to drill the Nasua-1 ultra-deepwater well off French Guiana. Pre-drill resource estimates are as high a 1 billion boe.

In Brazil, Shell will drill the Gato do Mato pre-salt prospect, which it successfully bid for in the second pre-salt bidding round in 2017.

Patel said: “In 2018 we saw that the decline in offshore exploration activity came to an end. The total number of offshore exploration wells last year was 325, compared to around 335 in 2017. For 2019 we expect that around 400 offshore exploration wells will be drilled. Many of them could be the next elephant – a discovery holding a billion barrels or more.”

WoodMac’s five offshore wells to watch in 2019

Global natural resources consultancy firm Wood Mackenzie said earlier this month that Latin America and southern and western Africa are the regions to keep an eye on when it comes to offshore exploration.

The company also provided a top five list of offshore exploration wells expected to be drilled in 2019, one of which could potentially hold 5 billion barrels.

Top of the list is Peroba, a giant pre-salt prospect in Brazil’s Santos basin, estimated to hold in-place volumes of more than 5 billion boe. Peroba lies on trend with the giant Lula discovery.

Next is Brulpadda-1 in South Africa where Total is the operator. Earlier in February Total’s partner in the well, Africa Energy, revealed that Total had made a significant gas condensate discovery at the Brulpadda prospect on Block 11B/12B. The well encountered a total of 57 meters of net gas condensate pay over two Lower Cretaceous high-quality reservoirs.

Nour-1, in Egypt’s Nile Delta, is currently drilling. Nour’s resource is estimated to be about 860 million boe.

Chevron will spud Kingsholm-1 in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico’s prolific Mississippi Canyon area towards the end of the first quarter. The prospect holds an estimated 300 million boe of resources.

Guyana which delivered a string of oil finds for Exxon is also on the list, with the Tullow-operated Jethro prospect, on the Orinduik Block. This well is on acreage adjacent to ExxonMobil’s prolific Stabroek Block and will target a 200 million boe prospect.

While not in its top five, Woodmac also mentioned Total’s Venus-1 well, like Rystad, as a one to look at. Woodmac also claimed that the well had the potential to be the year’s largest discovery with a 2-billion boe target.

Latin America and Africa the places to be

In their respective lists, it is apparent that both Rystad and Woodmac focus on South America and Africa.

Of Rystad’s ten major wells on the list, five are located either in Africa or South America, or more precisely Latin America, since the Etzil prospect is located offshore Mexico.

On the other hand, Woodmac’s top five list consists of four wells in South America and Africa. If we add the sixth bonus well, Venus-1, the only well of the six not located in these two regions is Kingsholm-1 located in the U.S. part of the Gulf of Mexico.

It is also worth reminding that Rystad said last Friday in an article covering 33 FPSO vessels to be sanctioned from 2019 to 2021 that most of the high capacity demand would come mainly from developments in Guyana and Brazil where operators such as ExxonMobil, Equinor, and Petrobras are stepping up their deepwater production.

The two lists provided by the companies and Rystad’s analysis of future FPSO use reaffirms the claim that the focus of offshore drilling is switching more and more to prolific basins in Latin America and Africa.