It is rather rare to see enthusiasm for completely new exploration projects in Europe. The overwhelming majority of OECD countries are either in terminal decline or are looking into ways how to ban exploration altogether. The less-appraised parts of Eastern Europe might still have some potential yet in the absence of oil majors such endeavors risk remaining a lifelong pipe dream. Still, the appearance of a new European frontier can rekindle upstream hopes (even if for a short period of time). Europe’s latest addition to the list of nations willing to tap into their prospective hydrocarbon resources is located in the southeast of the Old Continent, in Montenegro. The small ex-Yugoslav republic with just slightly more than 600 000 inhabitants has witnessed its first offshore well spudded on March 25, 2021. The 4118-5-1 wildcat was drilled in 100 meters of water to a total depth of 6525 meters, some 25km from the Montenegrin shore.
The first offshore Montenegrin well was spudded by the ENI-NOVATEK tandem, with the Italian major taking on the reins of operatorship. Given the geographic proximity, ENI’s interest in offshore Montenegro is quite understandable and was to be expected. In case of any discovery, ENI has the convenient option of accommodating prospective production within its system, the Italian shore is only 500km from the wildcat’s location. The first well is targeting an oil reservoir at depths of 6.5km, implying that the Italian major’s 120kbpd Taranto Refinery might be a safe backstop for any potential crude produced. Along with Total, ENI has been one of the most active drillers in the Mediterranean, marking suchsupergiant discoveries as the Egyptian Zohr or the Cypriot Calypso. Across the Adriatic from Montenegro, ENI has been developing the Aquila field offshore Brindisi,producing medium density crude of some 36° API.
The case for NOVATEK’s participation in an offshore project is much more peculiar, considering that the Russian gas producer has no assets in the Adriatic.Moreover, NOVATEK is on the US’ Sectoral Sanctions Identifications (SSI) List, meaning that equity investments and financing matters are substantially encumbered. Luckily for the Russian firm, offshore Montenegro does not fall under any of the three sanctioned areas, Russian deepwater, Arctic offshore, and shale. Domestically, NOVATEK is heavily focused on gas production on the Gydan peninsula and in the surrounding area, compelling it to seek new niches it can fill, new frontiers that could serve as bases for future growth. In a sense, NOVATEK needs to overgrow its LNG specialization and gain market-relevant competence in other segments, too.
NOVATEK’s first step into the foreign offshore segment took place in Lebanon where it landed two offshore blocks in a consortium with Total and ENI in 2018. In both cases NOVATEK did not lay claims to operatorship, focusing on building up key relationships with Europe’s leading drillers. It seems very likely that it is from the Lebanese joint experience that the Montenegrin drilling ambition branched out into a separate work track. Concurrently, although Montenegro is one of the hottest candidates for EU accession, Podgorica remains beyond the bounds of the European Union. For NOVATEK this is a great boon, as sanctions risk can be negotiated directly with the relevant national authorities, i.e. no involvement of Brussels is required.
Technically,the Montenegrin offshore area has already seen exploration drilling, though that was back in the SFRY (Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) times, in 1980. Although Yugoslavia was a socialist country with all its peculiarities, it was the US major Chevron that was the operator of drilling operations. The Jadran Juzni (Southern Adria) prospect turned out to wield signs of oil and gas systems which, however, were deemed non-commercial,effectively closing Chevron’s offshore endeavors in Yugoslavia. It needs to be pointed out that the current wildcat is farther off the Montenegrin coast the Jadran Juzni well was only 3km from shore. To carry out the drilling, the ENI-NOVATEK tandem contracted the Topaz Driller, a Panama-flagged jack-up drilling rig. The contract was clinched in July 2020, for drilling operations starting in Q1 2021 and taking up to 180 days.
Up to now the work progress of ENI-NOVATEK seems fairly solid. In late 2018 their contractor has carried out a comprehensive 3D seismic survey on the 4118-5 Block, then the summer of 2019 witnessed a string of hydrophysical and geophysical surveys on the prospects. Having completed this, it was assumed that the spudding of the first well would take place in 2020, however, the coronavirus-triggered chaos upended all plans and effectively delayed the wildcat into 2021. Most probably the Italo-Russian joint venture will drill 2 wildcats. Even if the first well turns out to be completely dry or non-commercial, the second well (expected to be spudded in May-June 2021) is targeting gas plays at lower depths, i.e. the first well’s fiasco does not automatically foreshadow the failure of the second well.
According to media reports, it will take ENI 4-5 months to finalize the drilling of the wildcat and assess the results. Nevertheless, Montenegro’s offshore zone might more activity coming up in the upcoming months. The Greek Energean holds 2 license blocks (4219-26 and 4218-30) and is expected to take a decision on whether it intends to proceed with drilling exploratory wells in its acreage. The data to assess the blocks’ resource bounty is already there, Energean carried out 3D seismic surveying on both blocks in 2019 already. The spark of interest towards its off shore zone might compel the Montenegrin authorities to expedite a 2nd offshore bidding round which would presumably cover the 7 remaining unallotted blocks. There is very little probability that Podgorica will be trying to auction off onshore blocks,especially considering their history of dry wells.
Katona is a contributor.
By: Viktor Katona
Nigeria Earns N2.7trn From Domestic Crude Oil Sales In 2019
The latest report by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) has put Nigeria’s earning from domestic crude oil sales in 2019 at N2.7 trillion.
According to NEITI’s 2019 Oil and Gas Industry Audit report, the country earned N2.72 trillion from just domestic crude oil sales.
It added that of this figure, N518.07bn was deducted for Petroleum Motor Spirit, PMS, under-recovery by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC.
This figure is N213.07bn above the approved sum of N305bn for under-recovery in 2019.
Similarly, the sum of N126.66bn was incurred by the corporation as costs for pipeline repairs and maintenances, which showed a difference of N96.38bn from the approved sum of N30.29bn for the purpose.
The report also pointed out that N31.84bn was deducted for crude and product losses due to theft and sabotage in 2019.
The sum of $34.22bn was recorded as revenue from the oil and gas sector in 2019.
The $34.22bn revenue represented an increase of 4.88 percent over the $32.63bn garnered from the sector in 2018.
A breakdown of the earnings showed that payments by companies accounted for $18.90bn, while flows from federation sales of crude oil and gas accounted for $15.32bn.
The report showed that 10-year (2010-2019) aggregate financial flows from the oil and gas sector to government amounted to $418.54bn, with the highest revenue flow of $68.44bn recorded in 2011, while the lowest revenue flow of $17.06bn was recorded in 2016.
According to NEITI, the total crude oil production in 2019 was 735.24 million barrels, representing an increase of 4.87 per cent over the 701.101 million barrels recorded in 2018.
Production Sharing Contracts contributed the highest volumes of 312.042 million barrels followed by Joint Venture and Sole Risk, which recorded 310,284 million barrels and 89.82 million barrels respectively.
Others include Marginal Fields and Service Contracts which accounted for 21,762 million barrels and 1,330 million barrels respectively.
The report also showed that total crude oil lifted in 2019 was 735.66 million barrels, indicating a 4.93 per cent increase to the 701.09 million barrels recorded in 2018, with companies lifting 469.01 million barrels, while 266.65 million barrels was lifted by the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation on behalf of the federation.
Egbin Power Plant Plans 1,900MW Boost
A boost for electricity generation is on the horizon.
This indication comes on the heels of a planned additional 1,900 megawatt (MW) to the country’s power generation capacity by the Egbin Power Plant.
Its Chairman, Temitope Shonubi, made this known while unveiling expansion plans for the Egbin (Expansion) Phase 2 Investments, which is expected to add between 1,750MW and 1900MW to power generation.
Shonubi, conducting a delegation of the NNPC led by its Chief Operating Officer (COO), Gas and Power, NNPC, Yusuf Usman, an engineer, through the plant’s post-privatisation, said the plant has gone through major overhauling, which he said has helped to increase its generation from the low capacity it had before 2013.
“Egbin has 1,320 MW capacity. As at the time we took over, the plant was generating 300MW which is an abysmal 22 per cent. As at today, our generation capacity has surged and we do 89 per cent. We have reached 970 MW, the peak generation for the year and we are working hard to ensure sustainability of this feat. The 970MW we hit is the highest for the year and based on our core value of sustainability, we are working round the clock to make sure that we sustain the gains we have made,” Shonubi explained.
Listing challenges being faced by the company to include, grid limitation, gas constraints, and liquidity, Sonubi added that stakeholders, including the NNPC, Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), and the Transmission Company of Nigeria (TCN) have been trying to solve the problems.
He called on the NNPC to keep exerting efforts towards gas development and supply of the product to keep turbines at Egbin working productively at optimal capacity.
Responding to the call and obviously satisfied with efforts put in so far in the thermal plant, Usman assured of the corporation’s commitment towards gas optimisation and supply for gas to power. He said NNPC will be joining the Egbin Power Plant to deepen gas supply for power generation.
He maintained that the NNPC was impressed with the turnaround at the thermal power station.
By: Tonye Nria-Dappa
Rising Oil Prices’ll Create Problems For Nigeria – NNPC
Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mallam Mele Kyari, has warned that rather than being a positive development, the rising prices of crude oil in the international market could cause major challenges for resource-dependent nations like Nigeria.
He spoke just as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expressed concern over the re-emergence of fuel subsidy in Nigeria in the face of the country’s low revenue mobilisation.
The Washington-based institution, however, welcomed recent moves by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to unify exchange rates, certifying Nigerian banks as being liquid and well-capitalised.
Kyari, at the virtual Citizens Energy Congress, tagged: “Securing a Sustainable Future Energy System through Strategy, Collaboration and Innovation,” yesterday described the rising price of crude oil as a “chicken and egg” situation.
He added that oil prices had started exiting the comfort zone set by the NNPC, and becoming a burden.
The forum was organised by DMG Events, a London-based Public Relations company, which said the occasion was to provide an opportunity for players to reset the energy agenda post- COVID-19 and connect the divergent and polarising perspectives.
Kyari put the comfort zone globally at $58-$60, saying that for the NNPC, anything above $70-$80 will create major distortions in the projections of the corporation and add more problems to the company.
Brent crude, Nigeria’s oil benchmark, is currently selling for over $74 and is likely to increase further in the coming days as the NNPC continues to battle the dilemma of shouldering the payment of petrol subsidy, which has made it unable to contribute to the Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) on two occasions.
Kyari expressed the concern that as the commodity prices rise, buyers of Nigeria’s crude may be compelled to accelerate their investment in renewable sources of energy, thereby leaving the industry in a quagmire.
He said: “In a resource-dependent nation like Nigeria when it gets too high, it creates a big problem because your consumers shut down their demand. Demand will go down and obviously even as the prices go up, you will have less volume to sell.
“So, it’s a chicken and egg story and that’s why in the industry when people make estimates for the future, they always make it about $50 to $60. Nobody puts it beyond $60.
“But for us as a country, as prices go up, the burden of providing cheap fuel also increases and that’s a challenge for us but on a net basis, you know, the high prices, as long as it doesn’t exceed $70 to $80, it’s okay for us.”
According to him, Nigeria will have no problems supporting the restoration of about 5.8 million barrels a day that the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) still has offline since the pandemic, due to the curbs in production quota imposed by the oil cartel.
He said adding that number to demand will stabilise and probably bring oil prices down to about $60 level or a little below $60, stressing that that’s a comfort zone for every producing company or country.
“I don’t see them (Nigeria) having any difficulty agreeing to add additional volume to cushion the effect of these high prices for this period,” he said.
He stated that Nigeria is already producing well below its capacity, because in early 2020, the country actually produced up to 2.4 million barrels of oil per day for both oil and condensates.
With declining investments in the oil sector, Kyari stated that in a short time, most likely the next five years, the world may experience an energy crisis if the current situation is not properly managed.
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