Corpus Christi, TX – Analysis: From Big Foot to Bluto, Gulf of Mexico set for record oil supply surge
CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas Sun Oct 27, 2013 9:10pm EDT By Kristen Hays and Terry Wade
(Reuters) – The Gulf of Mexico, stung by the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history in 2010 and then overshadowed by the onshore fracking boom, is on the verge of its biggest supply surge ever, adding to the American oil renaissance.
Over the next three years, the Gulf is poised to deliver a slug of more than 700,000 barrels per day of new crude, reversing a decline in production and potentially rivaling shale hot spots like Texas’s Eagle Ford formation in terms of growth.
The revival began this summer, when Royal Dutch Shell‘s (RDSa.L) 100,000 barrels per day Olympus platform was towed out to sea 130 miles south of New Orleans – the first of seven new ultra-modern systems starting up through 2016. It weighs 120,000 tons, more than 200 Boeing 777 jumbo jets.
The Gulf Of Mexico’s growth will bolster the United States’ emerging role as the world’s top oil and gas producer, a trend led by advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling that unlock hydrocarbons from tight rock reservoirs in places like North Dakota’s Bakken and the Permian of West Texas.
Rising domestic production and the start of natural gas exports may transform the economy and realign geopolitics as U.S. reliance on foreign oil declines.
The resurgence in the Gulf is occurring even though the U.S. government imposed stringent safety and environmental rules after BP Plc‘s (BP.L) Macondo spill. Foreign countries from Brazil to Angola have also aggressively courted Big Oil to invest in developing their offshore fields. And the shale boom has diverted billions of dollars in capital onshore.
The deepwater Gulf, considered the most technically challenging offshore oil patch, remains alluring even as other areas struggle. Brazil attracted only a single bid this month for its once-touted Libra field, yet global companies still compete fiercely for the right to drill in the Gulf.
“A barrel of discovered oil in the Gulf of Mexico is difficult to beat for value anywhere else, even with the increased costs of doing business,” said Jez Averty, senior vice president of North American exploration at Norway’s Statoil (STL.OL).
Huge finds over the last decade – in what engineers call “elephant fields” that can produce for 25 years or more – are lifting growth in a basin some companies once abandoned, fearing it was drying up or its resources were beyond reach.
“This is still one of the premier oil and gas regions in the world and that’s why we’ve never left,” said Steve Thurston, vice president of Chevron Corp‘s (CVX.N) North American exploration and production division.
Even after decades of production in the Gulf, government estimates have shown that 48 billion barrels could still be recovered.
The area of the Gulf of Mexico where most of the new infrastructure will start up is in an ancient geological trend in its deepest waters 200 miles or more from shore known as the Lower Tertiary, estimated to hold 15 billion barrels of crude.
Appraisals in the Gulf’s Lower Tertiary have shown fields that could have half a billion barrels or more of oil, like Exxon Mobil Corp’s (XOM.N) Hadrian, estimated to hold up to 700 million barrels, or Anadarko Petroleum Corp‘s (APC.N) Shenandoah, which tests this year showed could hold up to three times more than initial estimates of 300 million barrels.
The potential bounty of massive deposits that can produce for a quarter century or more is what keeps players coming even though a single well that bores tens of thousands of feet through thick salt and rock to strike oil – or a dry hole – can cost $130 million or more.
By contrast, an onshore well costs about $8 million to drill – but may only produce a trickle of oil for a few years.
Chevron’s Jack/St. Malo project, which will tie a platform to the ocean floor 7,000 feet below the surface and tap a reservoir 26,000 feet deep, costs $7.5 billion.
It may become the biggest such platform in the world after shipping out later this year, with the ability to double its initial 170,000 bpd capacity. It will be followed next year by Chevron’s second new platform, Big Foot, to be secured to the sea floor by 16 miles of interlocking metal strands, or tendons.
In addition to projects by Anadarko Petroleum Corp (APC.N) and Williams Cos (WMB.N), private equity firm Blackstone Energy Partners will join the game. In 2015, Blackstone’s partner LLOG Exploration aims to start up Delta House – named for the boisterous fraternity in the film “Animal House” – less than 10 miles from BP’s plugged Macondo well.
Delta House will pump oil from the Marmalard and Bluto fields, namesakes of characters in the movie.
CLEAR AND STABLE RULES
Three years ago, some analysts thought the post-Macondo Gulf would have fewer players as stricter regulations and higher operating chilled activity, particularly for smaller companies.
Producers must now provide more detailed plans for offshore operations, submit to more frequent inspections and prove they have access to a rapid-response system to cap a gushing well. More than 4 million barrels of oil poured into the sea for 87 days after the Macondo well blowout killed 11 men.
High costs have given some companies pause. Even as BP began appraisal drilling at its self-described “giant” Tiber field this August, a month later it canceled contracts to build a second platform at its Mad Dog field. BP says it wants to move forward on Mad Dog 2 “with the right plan.”
Many others are pressing ahead full steam.
“It hasn’t scared us away,” John Hollowell, Shell’s top deepwater executive for Shell Upstream Americas said, noting deepwater is one-third of Shell’s growth platform, alongside natural gas and unconventional areas like onshore shales.
Hess Corp (HES.N) Chief Executive John Hess has told analysts the company, which operates one oil and gas platform in the Gulf with another on the way next year, also aims to increase its exploration in the deep waters.
“It’s a core area for us and now that Macondo is behind the industry, it is an area where we intend to start investing more, assuming we get the returns that we expect,” he said.
Companies say the Gulf is still the best deepwater basin to set up shop – with high profit margins, reasonable per-barrel costs and a predictable legal and regulatory system.
Operators can bring in their own workers rather than employ a certain number from the host country, as they do in Brazil – where just finding enough qualified workers is a hurdle.
Gulf operators also do not have to brace themselves for sudden changes in royalty requirements or possibly be blocked from bidding on drilling rights, as has happened in Angola.
To get in the Gulf of Mexico’s door, they put in the highest bid when the government leases drilling rights.
“All you have to do is show up at the lease sale,” Statoil’s Averty said.
(Editing by Eric Walsh)
OnQuest said it has been awarded a contract by joint venture partners Stabilis Energy and Flint Hills Resources (FHR) to provide a turnkey scope of engineering services and project management for a 100,000-gallon-per-day natural gas liquefaction and distribution facility in George West, Texas, that will address demand for a reliable and safe supply of high-horsepower fuel to oilfields in Texas’s Eagle Ford Shale.
OnQuest will provide a fully functioning LNG facility with scope that includes project execution, engineering, construction, buildings, power and utilities. OnQuest’s sister company James Construction Group is contracted with OnQuest to construct the plant. Work begins immediately.
“OnQuest, James Construction Group, and our parent company Primoris Services Corporation are extremely pleased to have won the competition for the work at George West,” said OnQuest president Randolph R. “Randy” Kessler.
“We’re encouraged that the market for providing turnkey engineering, procurement and construction project supervision on micro-LNG process plants continues to grow,” said Kessler. “This win reflects Stabilis and FHR’s confidence in OnQuest’s ability to deliver LNG facility projects profitably and on schedule.”
Stabilis Energy is a Beaumont, Tex.-based holding company focused on investments in developing liquefied natural gas (LNG) in North America. Flint Hills Resources is a leading refining, chemical and biofuels company. Chart Industries will provide cryogenic and liquefaction equipment for the project.
“OnQuest shares Stabilis Energy and Flint Hills Resources’ commitment to expediting a cost-effective solution for operations in the Eagle Ford basin,” added Kessler. “And we look forward to working as engineering partners with technology provider Chart Industries.”
OnQuest specializes in lump-sum, turnkey engineering, procurement and construction project management (EPC). In 2008, OnQuest and sister company ARB, Inc., completed a micro-LNG plant producing 160,000 GPD LNG in Boron, Calif., for Clean Energy Fuels Corporation.
Established in 2002, OnQuest has become a global leader in turnkey engineering, procurement and construction for small and mid-sized LNG production and distribution facilities — in particular for companies requiring purpose-built facilities or that have natural gas assets far from existing LNG terminals. The company also provides engineering feasibility studies and project cost estimates to companies considering investments in mid-scale process plants.
The Center for Liquefied Natural Gas (CLNG) announced the launch of a new initiative and dedicated website focused on America’s newfound opportunity to sell liquefied natural gas (LNG) to grow America’s economy, create jobs and improve America’s environment.
The CLNG exports website will provide the public with up-to-date information and expert analyses on the benefits of selling some of our abundant supply of natural gas outside the U.S.
“A revolution in American energy has unlocked a vast supply of natural gas, more than enough to meet the needs of our country for generations to come,” said CLNG President Bill Cooper. “We can continue to harness this important resource for our domestic needs while also selling some to our trading partners. This will grow our economy, revitalize our manufacturing sector, and create tens of thousands of American jobs.”
These benefits have been confirmed by experts and energy analysts. In fact, a report released earlier this year from the Brookings Institution concluded that selling natural gas would represent a “net benefit” to the American economy, and that U.S. policy should allow development to move forward.
“It’s not a question of if this will benefit the United States; it’s a question of whether we will embrace a truly transformational opportunity,” Cooper added. “By recognizing the value of selling natural gas to our trading partners, the United States can ensure the continued utilization of our domestic natural gas supplies while simultaneously reaping the economic benefits of expanded trade. And to build the necessary equipment and infrastructure, billions of dollars will be invested in manufactured goods like steel, turbines and pipeline equipment that are all made here in the United States.”
Each liquefaction plant represents a multi-billion dollar investment in the United States and can support as many as 9,000 American jobs in construction and facility operations. In addition, tens of thousands of jobs can be supported in a variety of sectors supporting increased natural gas production, including manufacturing, field services, pipeline construction, transportation, and many other related industries throughout the country.
Visit the website today to learn more about the benefits of selling LNG.
The gas fields extend from the booming Eagle Ford play of South Texas deep into the ranch and coal country stretching inland from this violent border city. This is Zetas country, among the most fearsome of Mexico’s criminal badlands.
U.S. and Mexican energy companies long have been besieged by the gangsters here – their workers assaulted, extorted or murdered – despite a heavy military and federal police presence. Now, with feuding Zetas factions bloodying one another and fending off outside rivals, what has been a bad situation threatens to get much worse.
Northern Mexico’s gas production has suffered for years as gangland threats or attacks have kept workers from servicing the wellheads, pipelines and drilling rigs in the Burgos Basin, the territory between the Rio Grande and the city of Monterrey, which now provides up to 20 percent of Mexico’s natural gas.
“Petroleos Mexicanos has problems with security … principally in Burgos,” Guillermo Dominguez, a senior member of the National Hydrocarbons Commission, told the Mexico City newspaper Reforma.
And now the surging Zetas bloodletting pits the gang’s top bosses – Heriberto Lazcano and Miguel Angel Treviño – against Ivan Velazquez, a former underling known as “El Taliban.” From his base in the western state of Zacatecas, Velazquez reportedly has allied with the remnants of other gangs to launch a challenge for control of Coahuila state, which holds most of the shale gas reserves.
Challenge to control
Banners recently hung by both Zetas factions have accused one another of treason and other transgressions that will be avenged with death. Fighting has rattled Nuevo Laredo, the Zetas stronghold that also is the busiest land port for U.S.-Mexico trade, killing scores this month alone.
Still more banners appeared in Nuevo Laredo Tuesday, reputedly written by beleaguered civilians, promising all the gangster factions further bloody vengeance.
“Zetas are pretty much in control, but they have been challenged,” said a U.S. official in Mexico who monitors the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity. “You have all these groups fighting one another, shifting alliances and internal fights … It’s a wilderness of mirrors.”
The Zetas’ spats with rivals already have turned Coahuila’s other large cities – Torreon in the west, Monclova in the center and Saltillo in the east – into fierce gangland battlegrounds. State officials are blaming the Sept. 17 escape of 131 prisoners from a Piedras Negras prison on the Zetas seeking to replenish their ranks for new battles.
The insecurity in Mexico’s gas fields contrasts sharply with the drilling and production frenzy seizing the ranchlands just north of the border. Oil field pickups and semi-trailer fuel tankers choke Highway 83, the once-desolate ranch-country highway that cuts northwest from Laredo though the lower reaches of the Eagle Ford.
Some 6,000 drilling permits have been issued for Eagle Ford shale in Texas, and 550 wells are producing there. By comparison, Pemex so far has drilled five exploratory shale gas wells, but hopes to drill 170 more in the next four years. The company plans to spend $200 million on exploration in the short term.
Those first exploratory wells have been drilled to the west of Nuevo Laredo and below the border at Piedras Negras, ranch and coal country that remains relatively violence free for now. But that tranquility may owe more to the now-threatened dominance of the Zetas bosses than to rule of law.
“They are in control,” said a U.S. official. “They are pretty much just doing their thing.”
At least eight Pemex and contract employees vanished in May 2010 near a gas facility near Falcon Lake, territory under the Zetas’ firm control. Last March, two men working for a Mexican company doing contract work for Houston-based Halliburton disappeared outside Piedras Negras.
Halliburton spokeswoman Tara Mullee-Agard said employees get regular security briefings, but the company declined to comment on the contractors’ disappearance.
“Many companies that were active in the areas have stopped until Pemex or the government can provide security,” said an employee of one Reynosa-based company. “In places where there have been incidents we don’t operate anymore. When darkness falls, we stop wherever we are.
- Zetas crimping gas industry in northern Mexico (mysanantonio.com)
- Banners claim an alliance has been formed against the Zetas (mysanantonio.com)
- Mexico: State Officials Killed in Nuevo Laredo (hispanicallyspeakingnews.com)
- Piedras Negras “megafuga” just the latest massive prison break (mysanantonio.com)
- 132 inmates escape from Mexican prison near U.S. border (theprovince.com)
It looks like some of the un-drilled acreage leased by EOG Resources in the western side of the Eagle Ford Shale may be next on the list to get drilled. Rather than let leases expire, the company indicated in a recent conference call that it will shift some of the rigs that are currently drilling in the more productive east toward the western side of the play. EOG has reported completing some “monster wells,” in the east, such as the Boothe #10H in Gonzales County. The Boothe #10H IP-ed at 4,820 barrels of oil per day and 7.5 MMcfd of rich gas. In EOG Resource’s most recent earnings conference call, dated August, 2, 2012, chairman Mark Papa indicated that the shift of rigs toward the west was primarily to hold acreage.
- Shale oil gamble has EOG sitting pretty (fuelfix.com)