Armed with New Technology, Oil Drillers Revisit Gulf of Mexico

Posted by Eric Haun
Monday, August 04, 2014

Advances in drilling technology are reviving the prospects of oil companies in shallow parts of the Gulf of Mexico, helping to squeeze more from older fields while the U.S. shale bonanza lures others onshore.

Apache Corp and a handful of smaller independent companies are using seismic surveying and horizontal drilling - techniques perfected during the onshore fracking boom - to tap mature fields and find hidden reserves on the shelf.

The methods appeal to investors hungry for the quick profits that cannot be delivered by deepwater drilling, where a dozen years of planning and billions of dollars in investment can be required to get oil pumping.

The technology, already used successfully by Apache in the North Sea, has revealed oil and gas reserves that were previously hidden in water less than 500 feet (150 meters) deep.

"3D seismic has not only helped us in acquiring new leases with new reserves on them, but also in sharpening targets for development drilling in our existing fields," Andy Clifford, president of Saratoga Resources Inc, told Reuters.

Replacing reserves and increasing production has long been a challenge on the Gulf of Mexico shelf. The easy-to-find oil has already been drilled, resulting in a drastic fall in production.

But the use of seismic data, much more precise than previous mapping techniques, is tempting geologists to take a second look for new fields and re-evaluate older deposits to see what might be left behind.

After an unusually harsh winter, higher prices for natural gas - abundant on the shelf - are an added incentive to drill.

"We are re-shooting all of our large fields to make sure that we haven't missed anything," said Matt McCarroll, chief executive of Fieldwood Energy LLC, a private equity-backed company that bought shelf assets from Apache and SandRidge Energy Inc last year.

Total proved reserves in the Gulf of Mexico are currently about 4.9 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe), according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

But Stephen Trammel, an analyst at market research firm IHS, said some estimates peg reserves at nearly 10 times this amount.

With a market value of $1.8 billion, Energy XXI Ltd is worth a fraction of Apache or any of the oil majors, but has grown to become a big presence on the Gulf shelf since it deployed horizontal drilling and seismic tools.

Energy XXI's proved reserves, which are mostly to be found off the Louisiana coast, jumped by 50 percent in 2013 alone.

John Schiller, the company's founder and chief executive, said Energy XXI had extracted 5 percent of its reserves in the Gulf of Mexico and expected technology to squeeze out a further 5 percent.

"That's a meaningful number when we talk about 6 billion barrels of oil in place underneath our top 10 fields," he said. Even at a 5 percent recovery rate, the company would be able to produce 300 million barrels of oil.

'Invisible' No More
Horizontal drilling, which allows companies to set up miles-long pipes through a single rock formation, can deliver up to 20 times the production of wells tapped by vertical drills.

The technology is not entirely new. Companies in the Gulf of Mexico have been drilling horizontally for about two decades, though with limited results compared with developments onshore.

When twinned with recent advances in seismic tools, the biggest advantage of horizontal drilling today is its ability to identify the maximum amount of oil and gas in rock formations.

New seismic tools involve using sound waves that allow drillers to "see" oil and gas trapped in rocks through high-resolution 3D images.

"The best place to find oil and gas is where you know it already exists," said Michael Breard, a research analyst at Hodges Capital, a Dallas-based investment advisory firm.

Production in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico more than halved in the last decade to 534.8 million boe in 2013. Trammel said he expects production to turn the corner, and soon.

Apache is among the companies likely to drive that growth. Despite selling assets worth more than $10 billion in the last year, primarily to focus on shale, it has kept 50 percent of the unexplored portions of shelf properties it sold to Fieldwood.

Thomas Voytovich, chief operating officer of Apache's international operations, says new drilling techniques have led the company to previously "invisible" parts of the Gulf.

"We are not going to be doing anything in the deep water in the foreseeable future," he said. "Most of the prospects that we are developing right now are literally in jack-up rig territory, which is 300 feet or less."

Jack-up rigs - mobile platforms with a floating hull - were the one bright spot in rig contractor Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc's recent quarterly results. Revenue from its deepwater business declined.

Shallow-water wells are also cheaper. Using infrastructure left over from earlier drilling, they can be installed for about $10 million; a deepwater well would cost upward of $50 million.

The returns, so far, have been good. Each of Saratoga's three horizontal wells are yielding double to triple the initial production of vertical wells. Seismic technology is helping the company to drill deeper, said Clifford.

"It's all about getting more bang for your buck," he said.

(By Swetha Gopinath and Sayantani Ghosh; Editing by Robin Paxton)

Maritime Reporter July 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds

Technology

Marad Visits TX Maritime Technology & Training Center

United States Maritime Administration tours Maritime Technology and Training Center site.   Administrators from the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD),

Bergeron to be Keynote Speaker at SHIPPINGInsight

Scott Bergeron, CEO of the Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry (LISCR), has agreed to serve as a keynote speaker at the SHIPPINGInsight 2015 Fleet Optimization Conference & Exhibition,

Tanker Retrofitted with Dual Fuel Engine

Caterpillar Marine informs it has begin a dual fuel engine retrofit conversion onboard the 472-foot Fure West tanker, owned by Furetank Rederi A/B. The MaK M 43

Environmental

S.Africa Considering Ship-Based Power Generation

South Africa could deploy power barges using gas to generate electricity to help overcome chronic supply shortages, a senior government official said on Tuesday.

NYK Hosts Safety Conference

Over three dates in July, NYK hosted a safety promotion conference for shipowners and ship-management companies at the NYK head office in Tokyo and at Imabari city in Ehime prefecture.

El Nino Onset May Impact Panama Canal Drafts

The Panama Canal Authority closely monitors the water levels of Gatun and Alhajuela lakes on a regular basis due to the importance that these resources have for transit operations.

Energy

S.Africa Considering Ship-Based Power Generation

South Africa could deploy power barges using gas to generate electricity to help overcome chronic supply shortages, a senior government official said on Tuesday.

Asian Nations Call for Stop to South China Sea Land Work

Calls grow for China to halt land reclamation. Southeast Asian countries on Tuesday backed a U.S. call to halt land reclamation in the South China Sea, underlining

Koole Expands Rotterdam Operations

Koole Terminals has begun operations at the storage facility for petrol and diesel in Pernis that it recently acquired from BP.   The companies have a long-standing relationship.

News

Marad Visits TX Maritime Technology & Training Center

United States Maritime Administration tours Maritime Technology and Training Center site.   Administrators from the United States Maritime Administration (MARAD),

ISS Announces CEO Transition

Captain Claus Hyldager yesterday decided to step down as the Chief Executive Officer of Inchcape Shipping Services (“ISS”).    The current Chief Financial Officer,

CME Lifts Force Majeure for all Illinois River Grain Terminals

CME Group has lifted its declaration of force majeure at all Illinois River terminals that are regular for Chicago Board of Trade corn and soybean futures delivery,

Offshore Energy

Egypt Gets FSRU from BW Gas

Norway-based BW Gas will provide Egypt with a liquefied natural gas (LNG) floating import terminal under a five-year contract.   This comes as as the North African

CWind Joins National Workboat Association

Citing crew transfer services as an integral part of its offering, offshore wind industry service provider CWind announced it is now a member of the National Workboat Association (NWA) of the U.

Strategic Marine: Stock Program Full Power Ahead

Strategic Marine confirmed its stock program of personnel transport vessels is market-ready.  “Our stock program currently incorporates two class leading designs

 
 
Maritime Contracts Maritime Security Naval Architecture Navigation Pipelines Salvage Ship Electronics Ship Repair Ship Simulators Sonar
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.2111 sec (5 req/sec)