Judging by the first 3 months of 2021 it seems that this year has gone off into a wrong start, instead of economic rebounds we face a third rendition of a market slump. Nevertheless, 2021 is bound to become much more prolific in oil discoveries than 2020 was – many of the wildcats initially planned for 2020 were moved to the next year for financial or health security reasons, all the while some new frontier areas were opened up only very recently and 2021 will see its natural continuation there. Several wells have already been spudded, for instance the early top-5 contender Perseverance-1 (prospective resources of 770 MMbbls) spudded in the offshore zone of the Bahamas has encountered oil, however, in non-commercial volumes.
In Latin/South America, besides the Bahamian dry Perseverance prospect, many hopes were pinned to the continuation of drilling in the Guyana/Suriname Basin. Despite clinching a total of 18 discoveries within the Stabroek Block, ExxonMobil’s drilling programme has been disappointing lately. First, the Tanager-1 well (although this was on the Kaieteur block to the north of Stabroek) turned out to be dry in November 2020, then Hassa-1 wildcat “did not encounter hydrocarbons in the primary target reservoirs” in January 2021 and now Bulletwood-1 (Canje Block) ended up being non-commercial. Guyana will still have an opportunity to bounce back in 2021 with the Kawa-1 wildcat, however, it seems that if the basin is to wield any significant discoveries, they would be located in Suriname’s offshore where several high-potential wells are scheduled for this year, most notably Goliethburg-Voltzberg North-1.
Perhaps with the notable exception of the Venus wildcat in Namibia, the overall global anticipation of a drilling sensation has so far been tepid, though the travails of the COVID slump are by no means the main and indisputable cause thereof. PEMEX has given the exploration market a shake-up by announcing a “gigantic” discovery in the southern part of the Gulf of Mexico. The problem is that the Mexican NOC has provided very little detail of the discovery and (in a somewhat offhand manner) it insinuated that the field’s size was assessed on the basis of its combined capacity with other adjacent assets. Thus, not every reportedly world-class discovery will eventually transform into a world-class project – oftentimes such pertinent criteria as recoverability, overall geology, cost-efficiency are omitted so as not to taint the daydream. The list you are about to read takes such factors and recent developments into account and presents you the hottest 2021 oil prospects out there.
- Venus-1 (Namibia)
Venus is arguably the most closely followed new frontier wildcat, expected to be spudded in Q3 2021 by the French major Total. The actual drilling in Namibia’s offshore waters (Orange Sub-Basin, Block 2913B) might have happened earlier but apparently Total prioritized its drilling commitments in Angola, namely the Ondjaba-1 well using the Maersk Voyager ultra-deepwater drillship. The geological specificities of the Venus prospect force an analogy with Brazil’s ultra-deepwater, although the Namibian prospect lies in water depths of 2.5-3km, i.e. much deeper than Brazil’s Campos Basin. The operator Total holds a 40% interest in the block, teamed up by Qatar Petroleum (30%), Impact (20%) and NAMCOR (10%). Preliminary estimates of recoverable oil reserves vary between 1.5-2 Bbbls, if the drilling of Venus-1 turns out to be commercial it will inevitably bring about the emergence of another offshore oil frontier in Southern Africa following Total’s Brulpadda discovery.
- Jaca-1 (São Tome and Principe)
The small island nation of São Tome and Principe might become the latest addition to the international list of oil producers in 2021. The Portuguese oil company Galp and its project partner Shell will drill the Jaca-1 (“Jackfruit”) wildcat in the second half of 2021 in its offshore waters, marking the first-ever time an offshore well is spudded São Tome and Principe. Jaca-1, located within the offshore Block 06, will be spudded in water depth of 2500 metres. The Galp-Shell tandem has carried out extensive 3D seismic surveying on Block 05, 06, 11 and 12 already in 2017, however due to organizational issues (Kosmos selling its stake) and then the COVID pandemic its drilling slid off its original timeline. Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon – they all have sizeable offshore reserves in the immediate vicinity of Jaca, therefore there is ample reason to believe that the drilling campaign in São Tome and Principe is only shaping up.
Dois Irmaos (Brazil)
During the 4th pre-salt licensing round back in 2018, the Dois Irmaos block was allocated to a consortium comprising Equinor (25%), BP (20%) and Petrobras (45%) with the latter getting operatorship rights. As usually is the case with high-impact wells that are expected to deliver in 2021, drilling in Dois Irmaos was delayed for more than a year because of COVID impacts. Looking into 2021, the Vaz Lobo-1 well is poised to become the first deep-water wildcat to be spudded in the Campos Basin in quite some time – the drilling will be done by the Samsung-built West Tellus drillship. Widely perceived as a litmus test for Brazil’s pre-salt prospects, should Vaz Lobo mark a discovery, its success is guaranteed to gin up further exploration drilling. The entire block’s assumed pre-drilling reserves stand at 2.4 BBbbls, Petrobras has already identified 4 prospects with a gross pre-drill resource estimate of 1.3 Bboe.
- Silverback (United States)
The US Gulf of Mexico might witness an evolutionary feat this year, as Chevron’s drilling of the Silverback prospect in the Mississippi Canyon 35 block might open up the GOM’s heretofore untapped deeper-water frontiers. Mississippi Canyon 35 was offered during the US Bureau of Ocean Management’s (BOEM) lease sale #249 in 2017, Chevron grabbed it along with 14 other offshore blocks. Located some 150km from the Louisiana coastline, should the first Silverback wildcat (to be spudded in water depths of 1050-1100 meters) hit commercial reserves of oil, it can fully avail itself of ready-to-use infrastructure in its immediate vicinity, such as the Delta House FPS platform. The crude is assumed to be of medium quality, approximately 35 degrees API, i.e. tangibly lighter than the Mississippi Canyon benchmark, the 29-30° API Mars.
- Ondjaba (Angola)
There is one thing we can be certain about with regard to the Ondjaba-1 well in offshore Angola, to be drilled in Q2 2021 by Total. At water depths of 3628 meters, the prospective well will be spudded in heretofore unprecedented, record depths. Ondjaba will also be the first well to be spudded in Block 48, the Total-operated ultra-deepwater license, being the most highly appraised prospect within the Block. Preliminary estimates put Ondjaba’s resource bounty at 0.82 Bbbls, however the Angolan NOC Sonangol states Block 48 might contain another 1.2-1.3 BBbls provided that the targeted Ondjaba turns out be commercial. The assumed success estimate of the drilling is assumed at 50%. Merely several weeks before the spudding, Qatar Petroleum has finalized its purchase of a 30-percent stake in Block 48, including the Ondjaba prospect (Sonangol holds the remaining 30%).