Blog Archives

Repsol Signs Exploration Deal with Guyana Gov’t

Spanish oil company Repsol has signed an exploration and production agreement with the Government of Guyana.

The four-year agreement, signed yesterday, will allow Repsol to search for hydrocarbons in the Kanuku block, approximately 161 km offshore Guyana, the only South American nation in which English is the official language.

According to GINA, Guyana’s Government Information Agency, Repsol will first conduct 2D and 3D marine seismic surveys, which will be followed by an exploration well in the second phase of the licence.

The company was last year involved in drilling the Jaguar-1, a high pressure, high temperature (HPHT) well, offshore Guyana. The well encountered some hydrocarbons but the partners in the prospect decided to plug the well on safety criteria after reaching a point in the well where the pressure design limits for safe operations prevented further drilling to the main objective.

Source

Northern Petroleum: More Drilling to Be Conducted Offshore French Guiana

Northern Petroleum Plc  announces the joint venture decision to extend current drilling operations on the Guyane Maritime permit in French Guiana.

The GM-ES-3 exploration well is the second well of a four well exploration drilling campaign that commenced in 2012 to follow up the oil discovery at GM-ES-1 in 2011.

The GM-ES-2 well had exploration objectives in the major Cingulata fan system within which the original oil discovery was made in two ages of formation. GM-ES-3 has been planned to deliver exploration information in the subsidiary Priodontes fan system to the north west of the Zaedyus oil discovery.

The GM-ES-3 well intersected a 50 metres gross section of oil stained sands in the lower part of the Bradypus fan which was not a target formation at this location although it is also within the main Cingulata fan system. A 325 metres gross interval of sandstones was encountered in the targeted Priodontes fan, but these were logged with no significant hydrocarbon shows.

It has been decided by the Shell, Total, Tullow Oil and Northpet Investments Limited joint venture that this well provides a suitable location to drill deeper in a plan to penetrate the full post Atlantic rift sequence. The duration of this additional drilling will depend upon results from the formations encountered.

“This information may prove crucial to a fuller understanding of the exploration potential of this very large licensed area. Although this extension may cause a small delay to the further wells in this exploration programme, the earlier the deeper formations are examined, the better the advantages to be gained from its use in the second part of the drilling programme and aid efforts towards discovering more oil,” said NorthernPetroleum in a press release.

The well is now targeted to reach a final depth of 6438 meters subject to operational factors.

Derek Musgrove, Managing Director of Northern stated: “Following the oil discoveries of GM-ES-1 in 2011, the task before us was to explore the licence to ascertain its wider potential. Whilst the sand package in the primary target proved not to have significant hydrocarbons at this location, the oil staining encountered in the Bradypus fan is encouraging of the broader active hydrocarbon systems and potential.

“Northern supports this fuller exploration approach to this well. It is likely to provide Partners with further geological data imperative to gaining further understanding of the complex geology in this area”

To read more on the Joint Venture’s operations in French Guiana click here.

Source

Worldwide Field Development News Dec 29 – Jan 4, 2013

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This week the SubseaIQ team added 3 new projects and updated 9 projects. You can see all the updates made over any time period via the Project Update History search. The latest offshore field develoment news and activities are listed below for your convenience.

Asia – Far East

CNOOC Bolsters South China Sea Production

Jan 3, 2013 – Production has started at CNOOC’s 100% owned Liuhua 4-1 field in the South China Sea. Liuhua 4-1 is a subsea development consisting of one production manifold and eight production wells. They are produced through the Nanhai Tiao Zhan FPS and then pumped to the Nanhai Sheng Li FPSO. Peak production is expected to be reached later this year. In addition, the company completed an adjustment project on the Panyu 4-2 and 5-1 oilfields. The objective of the project was to achieve more efficient production from the two fields through shared facilities.

Europe – North Sea

North Sea Energy Provides Badger Update

Jan 3, 2013 – North Sea Energy’s operating committee recently held a meeting to discuss the path forward regarding the Premier Oil-operated Badger prospect in the UK North Sea. Badger is a structural/stratigraphic trap with an objective in lower Cretaceous Coracle and Punt sandstones. Further delineation is required and critical risk elements need to be mitigated before a drilling decision can be made. The company hopes to be in a position to make that decision by the end of 3Q 2013.

Det Norske Submits Ivar Aasen POD

Jan 3, 2013 – Det norske, on behalf of the partners in Production License 001B, submitted to the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy the Plan for Development and Operation of the Ivar Aasen field. If approved, first oil could be seen in 4Q 2016. Information gained during appraisal drilling indicates that the field contains 150 mmboe and will produce at a steady rate of 23,000 boepd. The development will also include the Hanz and West Cable discoveries. Hanz will be utilized by a subsea installation tied back to a production platform servicing Ivar Aasen and West Cable.

Project Details: Ivar Aasen

BP Brings Skarv Field Online

Jan 3, 2013 – BP announced the start of production systems at the Skarv field on December 31, 2012. Over its life, Skarv is expected to produce over 100 million barrels of oil and condensate and over 1.5 trillion cubic feet of rich gas. Water depth at the location is almost 1,500 feet. Development facilities include a new harsh environment FPSO, five subsea templates and a 50 mile export pipeline. Production rates will gradually increase over the year to an expected maximum daily rate of 165,000 boed.

Project Details: Skarv/Idun

S. America – Other & Carib.

Priodontes Well Spuds Off French Guiana

Jan 3, 2013 – Shell, as operator of the Guyane Maritime Permit (French Guiana), spudded an exploration well at the Priodontes prospect on December 29, 2012. The well is being drilled by the Stena Drillmax ICE (UDW drillship). Well GM-ES-3 is the second well in the current drilling program and is testing a different area of the Cingulata fan system that contains the recent Zaedyus oil discovery. Results of the Priodontes exploration will allow the license partners to gain a better understanding of the area’s geology and overall potential.

S. America – Brazil

PanAtlantic to P&A Jandaia

Jan 4, 2013 – Jandaia reached its targeted depth without encountering any indication of hydrocarbons. PanAtlantic and its partner Panoro Energy have plugged and abandoned the well. Jandaia, which is located in concession BM-S-71, was the third well in Vanco’s three-well program offshore Brazil. Sabia, the first well in the program, encountered volume at the low end of the pre-drill estimate and the second well, Canario, was dry.

Mediterranean

Noble Close to Flipping Switch at Tamar

Jan 3, 2013 – With the Inauguration of the Tamar production platform Noble Energy and the other Tamar interest holders are one step closer to the realization of first gas which is expected in April of this year. Discovery of the deepwater reservoir took place four years ago and development has progressed on schedule and within budget. The platform was installed in 800 feet of water and has the capacity to process 1.2 bcfd from its subsea wells. Once processed, the gas will flow through 93 miles of subsea pipeline to the Ashdod Terminal on Israel’s coast. Tamar is estimated to hold 8.4 tcf of gas reserves and its development will help bring the country to the verge of energy independence.

Project Details: Tamar

N. America – US GOM

FMC Awarded Delta House Contract

Jan 3, 2013 – LLOG Exploration awarded a subsea equipment contract to FMC Technologies relating to the recently approved Delta House development project in the deep waters of Mississippi Canyon in the US Gulf of Mexico. Under the contract FMC will supply nine subsea trees, four subsea manifolds, five multiphase meters with all associated topside control systems and subsea distribution systems. Delivery of the $114 million order will take place this year.

Project Details: Delta House

Worldwide Field Development News Oct 13 – Oct 19, 2012

This week the SubseaIQ team added 0 new projects and updated 13 projects. You can see all the updates made over any time period via the Project Update History search. The latest offshore field develoment news and activities are listed below for your convenience.

S. America – Brazil

Petrobras Confirms Oil at Carioca Norte

Oct 18, 2012 – Petrobras confirmed the presence of light oil in appraisal well 3-BRSA-1101-SPS, informally known as Carioca Norte, in block BM-S-9 offshore Brazil. Schahin’s Vitoria 10000 drillship drilled the well to a total depth of 18,293 feet. Results from the well are similar to three others drilled in the Carioca area. The partners in the block will now proceed with their appraisal plan which has been approved by Brazil’s ANP.

Project Details: Carioca

Australia

Shell Cuts Steel on Prelude FLNG

Oct 18, 2012 – Shell and its partners announced steel cutting for what will be the world’s first floating liquid natural gas facility. When complete, the Prelude FLNG vessel will be 1,600 feet long and 242 feet wide and will be the largest offshore floating facility ever built. Prelude will be deployed approximately 120 miles off the Australian coast in block WA-44-L serving the Prelude and Concerto fields. FLNG technology will eventually make it economical to develop gas fields that are currently considered too far from shore or to remote to produce. The facility is expected to receive first gas some time in 2017. At peak production the facility will deliver 3.6 million tons of LNG and 400,000 tons of LPG per year.

Project Details: Prelude

Testing Underway at Boreas-1

Oct 17, 2012 – Karoon Gas announced the Transocean Legend (mid-water semisub) has commenced testing of the Boreas-1 exploration well. Upon bringing in the well, a stabilized flow rate of 30.2 Mmscf/d was achieved through a 40/64 choke. The company notes that flow rates were limited by the surface equipment being used. Flow is being assessed from a 229-foot perforated reservoir section in the primary Plover formation at a depth of 16,089 feet. Testing should last five days with the goal of determining the overall deliverability of the primary reservoir which if a part of the Geater Poseidon structure. The next two wells in the drilling program, Zephyros-1 and Proteus-1, are designed to test the east and west flanks of Greater Poseidon Trend.

Project Details: Boreas

Africa – West

FMC Wins Pazflor Subsea Contract

Oct 19, 2012 – FMC Technologies has been awarded a $33 million equipment contract to supply three additional subsea well systems to Total for its Pazflor project offshore Angola. FMC supplied the initial deepwater production systems that have now been in operation for just over a year. Three of the four Pazflor reservoirs contain very heavy, viscous oil and relatively low reservoir pressures. Subsea separation and pumping is the key enabling technology making production of the heavy oil possible.

Project Details: Pazflor

Aker Books Deep Water Angola Work

Oct 17, 2012 – Eni, operator of block 15/06 offshore Angola, awarded a $50 million-contract to Aker Solutions to participate in the West Hub development project. Aker’s work scope will include engineering, procurement, fabrication and supply of 21 miles of static and dynamic steel tube umbilicals, as well as the associated equipment and peripherals. Delivery is booked for 1Q 2014. Once active, West Hub will draw from the Sangos, Ngoma and Cinguvu fields.

Project Details: West Hub

S. America – Other & Carib.

Rockhopper Premier Finalize Farm-Out

Oct 19, 2012 – Rockhopper announced the completion of the Premier Oil farm-out agreement. Rockhopper will receive a $231 million cash payment and Premier will obtain a 60% interest and operatorship of Rockhoppers licenses off the Falkland Islands. The cash payment will see Rockhopper’s share of Sea Lion fully funded through first oil which is expected 3Q 2017. Both companies are fully aligned on the project and expect to have a development concept by mid 2013. The partners are also discussing other Falklands area exploration prospects and a 2014 drilling campaign.

Project Details: Sea Lion

Europe – North Sea

Fram H to Get 4-Slot Template

Oct 19, 2012 – Statoil and its partners have approved the installation of a 4-slot standard template at Fram H North in the Norwegian North Sea. The template is to be tied-back via flexible pipeline to Fram West which supplies production to the Troll C platform. Installation of subsea equipment, pipelines and control cables is planned for summer 2013. The project will help maintain high flowline temperatures to avoid the use of scale wax inhibitors between Fram and Troll C. Estimates indicate Fram H contains recoverable resources of 10 Mmbeo.

Project Details: Troll Area

OMV Buys Stake in Edvard Grieg

Oct 17, 2012 – RWE Dea has elected to sell its 20% stake in the Edvard Grieg development offshore Norway to OMV for $325.2 million. A contingent payment of almost $46 million is available based on the achievement of certain operational milestones. This acquisition gives OMV access to 2P reserves in excess of 38 Mmboe and net production up to 19,000 boepd in 2016 once the field is brought on stream. The Plan of Development and Operations has already been approved by the Norwegian Parliament and all major contracts for drilling and platform construction have been awarded. OMV will share partnership with Lundin (operator 50%) and Wintershall (30%). The agreement is subject to approval by the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy and by the Norwegian Ministry of Finance.

Project Details: Edvard Grieg (Luno, Ivar Aasen) Project

Maintenance Delay at Buzzard

Oct 16, 2012 – A scheduled maintenance shutdown of the Nexen-operated Buzzard platform in the UK North Sea has lasted longer than predicted. Nexen’s original plan was to bring the platform back online mid-October but startup will have to wait another week. The delay has resulted in one cargo being dropped from the November Forties loading program. Forties is the main component of the global benchmark Brent which is used to price most of the world’s oil. Buzzard is the largest Forties producing field and issues there tend to provide strong support to Brent oil futures.

Project Details: Buzzard

Eni To Begin Drilling At Goliat

Oct 16, 2012 – Drilling at the Eni-operated Goliat field will begin near the end of October by the Scarabeo 8 (UDW semisub). Appraisal well 7122/7-6 is expected to take 50 days to drill. A 3 ?? year development drilling phase, consisting of 22 wells drilled from 8 subsea templates, will begin upon completion of the appraisal well. The templates will eventually be tied to a circular floating production facility with an integrated loading and storage system. Total development cost of Goliat is estimated at $5.2 billion. After start-up, production is expected to plateau at 100,000 barrels per day.

Project Details: Goliat

Drilling Underway at Spaniards East

Oct 15, 2012 – Drilling operations at the Premier Oil-operated Spaniards East prospect are underway in the UK North Sea. Awilco Drilling’s WilPhoenix (mid-water semisub) is expected to be on location for roughly 40 days. The Spaniards discovery was made in 1989 and flowed 2,660 barrels per day. Spaniards East will test the down-dip potential ?? mile to the east of the discovery well. Successful results from this well could cause the partners in the license to accelerate appraisal plans for the area.

Geite Comes Up Dry

Oct 15, 2012 – Det norske and its partners announced disappointing results at the Geite prospect offshore Norway. Well 7/11-13 encountered Triassic sandstones as planned but were proved to be void of hydrocarbons. The well will now be plugged and abandoned as a dry hole.

Project Details: Geite

Asia – SouthEast

EOC Bags FPSO Upgrade Project

Oct 18, 2012 – Premier Oil awarded a $15 million contract to EOC Limited in relation to the upgrade of FPSO Lewek EMAS. Under the contract, EOC will provide project management, engineering and procurement services for modifications that are necessary to accommodate a subsea tie-back that will link the vessel to the nearby Dua oil field in Block 12E offshore Vietnam. The Lewek EMAS is currently in operation in the Premier-operated Chim Sao field. Once the project is completed in late 2013, the FPSO will produce both fields. All modifications will be made in the field without taking the vessel offline.

Project Details: Chim Sao

Other

Tullow Farms Into Greenland Block

Oct 15, 2012 – Greenland’s Government approved an agreement between Maersk Oil and Tullow in which Tullow will take a non-operated 40% interest in Block 9 located off the nation’s western coast. Maersk Oil will maintain operatorship of the block with 47.5% interest and state oil company Nunaoil will hold the remaining 12.5%. Block 9 is also referred to as the Tooq license and covers an area of 7,333 square miles. Decision to drill an exploration well will be made once 3D seismic is acquired and processed, which will last through 2014.

Apache Inks Suriname PSC

Apache Corporation today signed a production sharing contract (PSC) with Suriname’s oil company Staatsolie for offshore block 53. located in the territorial waters of the South American country.

The contract, divided into exploration, development and production phases, is valid for approximately 30 years. The parties have agreed to a minimum working program for the exploration phase, which includes geological surveys and exploration drilling. Apache will take full responsibility for all costs during the exploration phase.

If a commercial find has been made and brought into production, Apache will receive reimbursement for such costs. The contract offers Staatsolie the opportunity for a stake in the development phase of up to 20 percent.

Block 53 is located at approximately 130 kilometers off the northwest coast of Paramaribo. The exploration period under the contract is divided into two phases with a combined investment of approximately US$230 million. The duration of the first phase is scheduled for three years with an optional second phase of two and a half years. In addition to a large 3D seismic survey, two wells will be drilled in the first phase with a third well to be drilled in the optional second phase. The production sharing contract explicitly deals with inspection, safety and the environment. There are also special provisions for employment of local cadre, training, social programs and the dismantling of facilities at the end of operations.

Apache Inks Suriname PSC| Offshore Energy Today.

Worldwide Field Development News Sep 22 – Sep 28, 2012

This week the SubseaIQ team added 1 new projects and updated 8 projects. You can see all the updates made over any time period via the Project Update History search. The latest offshore field develoment news and activities are listed below for your convenience.

Mediterranean

Possible Progress for Gaza Marine

Sep 25, 2012 – The Israeli Foreign Ministry released a report Sunday regarding new developments that concern the future of the Gaza Marine gas field. Gaza Marine is located roughly 18 miles off the coast of the Gaza Strip. BG, with a 90% interest, is the field operator and estimates reserves of around 1 Tcf. Due to Israeli-Palestinian relations, development of the field has been on hold since two appraisal wells were drilled in 2000. The recent report indicates that Israeli and PLA officials have opened a meaningful dialogue in an effort to come to an agreement on a mutually beneficial development plan.

Project Details: Gaza Marine

S. America – Other & Carib.

CX-15 Platform Arrives at Corvina

Sep 25, 2012 – BPZ Energy’s CX-15 platform has been delivered and anchored on location at the West Corvina field. The buoyant tower and topside arrived in Peru via heavy lift vessel September 5. At this point, the tower has been ballasted down and the topsides mated to the hull. Final weld out and hook up of facilities is being completed, after which the Petrex-28 platform rig will be brought on board and assembled. The first well is expected to spud in late October.

Project Details: Corvina

Africa – West

BW Extends FPSO Contract with CNR

Sep 26, 2012 – BW Offshore announced a contract extension with CNR International (C??te d’Ivoire) SARL for the lease and operation of the FPSO Espoir Ivoirien. The firm period of the 4 year extension will carry the contract to 2Q 2017. In addition, the option period has been adjusted and could allow CNR to lease the vessel through 2Q 2036. The total contract value (including options) is $925 million, which is up from the previous contract of $250 million.

Maersk Oil Sees More Success Offshore Angola

Sep 24, 2012 – The deep waters of Block 16, offshore Angola, continue to be good to Maersk Oil and its partners. A recent production test of the Caporolo-1 exploration well flowed a maximum of 3,000 bopd on a 36/64″ choke. Caporolo-1 was drilled to 18,070 feet into a structure adjacent to, but separate from, the nearby Chissonga discovery. Drilling was done by the Ensco 5001 (DW semisub) in 4,567 feet of water. Comments from Maersk Oil indicate that further exploration and appraisal will be needed to determine if the discovery is able to be developed.

S. America – Brazil

Anadarko Cedes Interest in Brazilian Block

Sep 27, 2012 – Anadarko announced it ceded its 30% stake in Brazilian block ES-M-661, part of the BM-ES-24 concession, to operator Petrobras who now maintains a 70% interest. The company relinquished its interest in the block 6 months ago but the transaction received the Brazilian National Petroleum Agency’s approval just recently. Petrobras announced in July that the Grana Padano well, located in ES-M-661, was a heavy oil discovery. Anadarko still maintains its interest in two other blocks in the concession.

Drilling Kicks Off at Canario

Sep 27, 2012 – Drilling at Vanco’s Canario prospect is underway. Canario is located in block BM-S-63 and is being drilled by Transocean‘s GSF Arctic 1 (mid-water semisub). The primary target is post-salt turbiditic sands of the Middle Itajai-Acu formation and is expected to be intersected at 10,498 feet. Secondary sandstones in the Upper Jureia formation are being sought as a secondary objective. Total depth for the well is projected to be 15,748 feet. Drilling is expected to take 2 ??? 3 months, at which point the rig will mobilize to the Jandaia prospect in block BM-S-71.

Project Details: Canario

Australia

Production Test Being Planned for Boreas-1

Sep 27, 2012 – Logging is currently being completed and preparations are being made to begin production testing at the Boreas-1 exploration well in Browse Basin, according to Karoon Gas Australia. To this point, interpretation of the data gathered from the well indicates the presence of net pay gas sands exhibiting good reservoir properties. The Transocean Legend (mid-water semisub) is being used to carry out the exploration drilling program which calls for a minimum of 5 wells to be drilled in the area.

Project Details: Boreas

NZOG Commits to Drill Kakapo

Sep 26, 2012 – New Zealand Oil & Gas said it will drill a well at its Kakapo prospect when a suitable rig can be negotiated. Kakapo is located in Permit 51311 about 25 miles off the South Taranaki coast of New Zealand. NZOG was awarded the permit in 2009 and, based on terms, had to either relinquish the permit this week or keep it and commit to drill. As operator, NZOG has a farm-out agreement with Raisama Energy, whereby Raisama will earn a 10% stake in the permit by carrying 20% of the costs for the first well – not to exceed $3 million. A timetable for the first well is expected to be confirmed within the next 6 months.

Project Details: Kakapo

Europe – North Sea

Romeo Spuds in the UK North Sea

Sep 24, 2012 – Noreco announced the start of drilling operations at the Romeo prospect in the UK North Sea. The exploration well is located in block 30/11c of license P1666. Romeo is a fault bound dip closure in a proven Upper Jurassic play. Primary risk to success is considered to be the trap geometry in the formation. Suncor, as operator of the license, has engaged the WilHunter (mid-water semisub) to provide drilling services. Downhole conditions are expected to be borderline HPHT so the well will be drilled as such.

Project Details: Romeo

Huisman Builds New Production Facility in Brazil

 

Huisman, specialist in lifting, drilling and subsea solutions, has announced its plans to build a new production facility in Brazil and recently initiated the land fill works. The new facility will be located alongside the river Itajai-Açu in the city of Navegantes in Santa Catarina state, a state in the southern part of Brazil bordering the Atlantic Ocean. This facility will be used for the manufacturing of construction equipment for the Brazilian offshore market.

The first investment phase includes over 15,000 square meter of production facilities. The next investment phase will include a 200m long quay side with an artificial bay to protect vessels from the seasonal river’s high currents. With the quayside in place, the Huisman do Brasil facility will be easily accessible for seagoing vessels, allowing for fast installation, commissioning and testing of the Huisman designed and built offshore construction equipment onboard. The new Huisman production facility is planned to be operational in the second half of 2013.

Subsea World News – Huisman Builds New Production Facility in Brazil.

 

Heads We Win, Tails We Win

By Marin Katusa, Chief Energy Investment Strategist

Hugo Chàvez is undoubtedly one of the most polarizing politicians in the world today. The man who has led Venezuela for 14 years is vehemently anti-American, a proud voice for Venezuela’s poor, a patriot and a poet, and a firm believer that national resources belong to the nation and no one or nothing else.

That final Chàvez mainstay – that resources are best and most appropriately managed by the people for the people – has positioned Venezuela at the head of a group of Central and South American nations that are trying resource nationalization on for size as they struggle to make the most out of their oil and gas bounties. Venezuela is a global oil heavyweight – its 211-billion-barrel reserve is one of the top three national oil reserves worldwide – so Chàvez’s moves to nationalize his country’s massive oil machine gave neighboring countries the confidence to follow suit.

Sometimes national control over oil and gas resources can work well. Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and Kuwait are all prime examples of well-functioning, state-controlled oil sectors. However, resource nationalization is a tricky business, and more often than not the process goes awry.

Venezuela is no exception. Chàvez’s efforts to kick foreign firms out of Venezuela and use oil and gas revenues to fund social programs worked pretty well initially, but despite rising oil prices that early success has slipped away. In recent years Chàvez has demanded too much from the oil and gas sector, expecting ever-increasing revenues despite his reluctance to fund infrastructure and exploration programs. The result has been declining production, an exodus of technical expertise, and a pariah reputation in the international oil and gas industry.

Now, with a presidential election looming and Chàvez struggling with a cancer that it’s rumored will take his life within months, the path forward for the country that has been a firebrand for South American resource nationalization is far from clear.

Venezuela’s Love-Hate Relationship with Resource Nationalization

Venezuela nationalized its oil industry in 1976, at a time when many countries in the southern hemisphere were asserting sovereignty over their natural resources. The transformation of Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA) into a state-owned company was hailed as a national victory. However, it did not take long for trouble to begin.

In the 1990s global oil prices plunged and Venezuela, having based its budget on a certain level of oil income, found itself in deep economic trouble. PDVSA had 900 to 1,300 billion barrels of oil on its reserve books, but the company didn’t have the money or the technological know-how to tap into these reserves, most of which sat trapped in the geologically challenging Orinoco Belt. Seeing few other options, the country opened its oil sector to foreign investors: PDVSA started seeking out international partners willing to provide expertise and funding in exchange for a share of the profits. Big Oil arrived and started spending billions of dollars to unlock the heavy oil of the Orinoco.

Then Mr. Chàvez won the 1998 presidential election on a populist ticket that promised to use the country’s vast oil wealth to benefit the poor. Venezuela’s experiment with foreign involvement in its oil sector slowly came to a halt. Despite initially adopting “orthodox” economic policies, Chàvez soon started making good on his promise to his people – he gradually closed the door on international investment, raised rents, and changed fiscal agreements to retain ever more oil revenue for Venezuela. Imagine this: at one point the government take on oil contracts was more than 100% – foreign producers would have had to pay Chàvez for the privilege of producing oil in his country.

Chàvez brought a new form of politics to Venezuela. He identified with his supporters because he was one of them, having grown up poor, and he used language they understood, caring not that the elites saw such language as one of many signs that he was a buffoon with limited education and experience. His style stuck and the people grew to love him.

As he gained in popularity and confidence, Chàvez grew bolder in his moves to control Venezuelan oil in its entirety. In 2002 a group of PDVSA executives kick-started a general strike aimed at ousting Chàvez that lasted for a month and cut oil production to about 30% of normal levels; in response Chàvez fired nearly half of the company’s employees – 18,000 people in all – erasing large swaths of technical know-how in one fell swoop but sending a clear message that he would not tolerate dissent against his control over Venezuela’s oil.

By 2007 Chàvez had gained enough confidence to essentially complete his oil renationalization campaign – he expropriated oil assets in the Orinoco by issuing a decree that PDVSA hold at least 60% ownership in all international partnerships. What little was left of Big Oil pretty much packed up and left Venezuela. National oil production immediately fell by 25%.

You could say that was the beginning of the end, or the end of what had been a great beginning. That great beginning was undoubtedly aided by rising global oil prices: when Chàvez came to power, oil prices were sitting near $12 per barrel. By 2006 prices were averaging almost $60 a barrel, Venezuela’s coffers were overflowing, and the Venezuelan president felt unstoppable.

Those rising prices created such a sense of success around Chàvez’s experiment with renationalizing Venezuela’s oil and gas sector that Chàvez was able to convince his compatriot leaders in South America to follow in his footsteps. And it worked – Bolivia and Ecuador renationalized their oil sectors, and the concept of resource nationalization took hold in Argentina. As his geopolitical influence grew, Chàvez also devoted attention to the oil-needy nations in his neighborhood, implementing an oil-transfer program to energy-needy Central American and Caribbean countries. With his oil sector seemingly able to provide for so many, resource nationalization took on new life across South America, and Chavez was the movement’s proudest spokesman.

But here the word “seemingly” is key. As oil prices rose, PDVSA profits also rose, and it seemed that nationalization had been a boon to Venezuelan oil. But the increased profitability stemmed only from rising prices; the company itself was being strangled by a lack of investment – Chàvez spent all of PDVSA’s profits on his domestic fuel subsidies and social programs – and its dearth of technical expertise.

In short, a sector can only provide profits if it is also supplied with investment; and that is where Chàvez went wrong. Like so many other socialist leaders who nationalized resource sectors with great fanfare only to see the sectors wither away because of insufficient TLC, Chàvez failed to put money back into PDVSA.

Now the country’s once-proud oil and gas sector is in disarray. Infrastructure is old and insufficient, and production volumes are declining instead of climbing. In 2005 the company launched a new six-year plan calling for investment of US$239 billion to boost oil production to 5.8 million bpd by 2012. Instead, output has fallen from 2.9 million barrels per day (bpd) to 2.5 million bpd. Things are even worse when you look at Chàvez’s tenure as a whole: from 1998 to today, production has fallen from 3.5 million bpd to 2.5 million bpd, a decline of almost 30%:

Not only has production declined, but PDVSA’s financials have also deteriorated dramatically, its debt increasing from US$2.7 billion in 2005 to some US$33 billion now. Yet PDVSA continues to borrow money at an incredible rate, in large part to fund those domestic oil subsidies that are so very popular among Chàvez supporters. These subsidies cost the company US$15 billion a year.

The view forward is unclear. PDVSA lacks the technical expertise to take advantage of the heavy oil in the Orinoco. With foreign investment – and therefore involvement – in the oil sector banned and PDVSA drowning in debt, the prospects for turning Venezuela’s fading oil sector around are pretty dim.

Unless, of course, the sector is opened up to outside investment… which could well happen if Chàvez ceases to be part of the picture.

The Cancer

Over the last 12 months Chàvez has made regular trips to Havana for cancer treatments. The only official information about these treatments is that two malignant tumours were removed from his pelvic region. The secrecy surrounding Chàvez’s cancer and the fact that Chàvez, who rarely goes a few days without speaking directly to his people, enters radio silence during his trips to Cuba have fueled rumors of his declining health. Several times already these have ballooned into claims that the Venezuelan president had died.

The latest twist in the Chàvez cancer drama came from venerated journalist Dan Rather, the former CBS anchor who now hosts and directs Dan Rather Reports, a weekly news television show on HDNet. In a report he labeled as “exclusive,” Rather revealed on May 30 that he had been told that Chàvez is suffering from metastatic rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer that has “entered the end stage.” Rather said the information came from a highly respected source who is close to Chàvez and in a position to know his medical condition and history. This source says the prognosis is dire and that Chàvez is not expected to live “more than a couple of months at most.”

This is not the first time rumors of Chàvez’s pending death have surfaced. However, with his treatment having dragged on for a year already, with his uncharacteristic disappearances to Cuba growing longer and more frequent, and with Rather’s reputation for accuracy lending credence to this new information, it is time to ponder Venezuela – and South America – without Hugo Chàvez.

Chàvez would be incredibly difficult to replace. His rags-to-riches story line, bold governing style, and idiosyncratic mannerisms have earned adoration from the Venezuelan population, especially the poor and working class masses who constitute his prime electoral base. He also enjoys broad support from Venezuela’s military members.

This is a president who announces executive orders between readings of poetry, regularly draws families around their televisions to listen to his lengthy and often fiery speeches, and sings Venezuelan folk songs on a weekly show called Hello President. There are few people in the world who could match his charisma and earn such allegiance from a national population. That is why, even though others from Chàvez’s inner circle bear similar political views, most observers think any Chàvez successor would have a very difficult time maintaining the Chavista movement.

So when Chàvez dies, what might become of Venezuela? In the immediate aftermath, Vice President Elías Jaua would take power, according to the Constitution. In fact, Chàvez recently formed a nine-member State Council headed by Jaua to assist him with executive duties, a move many interpreted as a preparation for his impending demise.

In the longer term, Venezuelan political observers see five potential successors within Chàvez’s Socialist Party. All hold similar views, but none enjoy anything close to Chàvez’s recognition and support. The Party would have to hope that Chàvez’s reputation can carry one of these candidates to the presidency, but such a succession is far from assured.

If Chàvez dies before the October presidential election, opposition candidate Henrique Capriles would suddenly see his odds of winning jump dramatically. Polls show Capriles currently lagging behind Chàvez by roughly 5%, but the same polls found that Capriles would win the race by double-digit margins if he were to face a Chàvez successor instead of facing Hugo himself… unless, of course, the Socialists rig the election. Given that Chàvez has proven that a high regard for democracy is not a required characteristic for someone holding the Venezuelan presidency, this is not unlikely.

Capriles is a veteran politician, having previously served as governor of the state of Miranda despite being just 39 years old. He is a center-left politician who has cleverly focused on issues close to the day-to-day lives of Venezuelans: crime, corruption, declining services, inflation, and jobs. Capriles’ petroleum policies are less clear, but his rare comments on the matter indicate he would keep PDVSA as a national entity while allowing the company to engage in investment partnerships with foreign firms, much like the Brazilian national oil firm Petrobras.

If Chàvez is healthy enough to run, he will almost certainly win the election in October. If he is not, we see two possible paths. The first is that Capriles finds himself president of Venezuela, and South America loses its resource nationalization ringleader. However, a desire to change how Venezuela’s oil sector operates is very different from the actual ability to do so. The biggest obstacle to change: those domestic oil subsidies. If Capriles wants to revitalize PDVSA – indeed, if he simply wants to give PDVSA a chance at economic survival – he would have to significantly reduce the domestic oil subsidies, and likely also reduce social spending to free up some oil revenues for reinvestment into the country’s oil fields. And that would cause riots. We have seen it before, most recently in Nigeria: populations that are accustomed to having access to cheap oil are highly unwilling to let go of that benefit and will riot, often violently and for extended periods, at the mere suggestion that gas prices need to increase.

Oil-related riots in one of the world’s top-ten oil-producing nations would undoubtedly push global oil prices higher.

The other potential path for a post-Chàvez Venezuela is that his successor within the Socialist Party wins the presidency, legitimately or with the aid of electoral fraud. This Chàvez clone would then be stuck trying to fill Hugo’s shoes, a near-impossible task in which he would only have a chance at success by promising even more in the way of social spending. These expensive programs would put even greater strain on Venezuela’s budget, which is funded in large part by revenues from PDVSA. There would continue to be no money available to finance PDVSA’s spending needs, and production would continue to decline.

Guess what? This scenario – of continued production decline in a major world supplier – would also push global oil prices higher. The bottom line is that Chàvez has created a lose-lose scenario for Venezuelan oil. The country has become reliant on a one-way flow of money and cheap oil from PDVSA to society, but after a decade of neglect PDVSA is withering away and the flows are drying up. Even if Chàvez dies and a left-leaning leader like Capriles comes to power, Venezuela will have to convulse through many ugly years before a functional relationship can be reestablished between its oil riches and its social demands. In the meantime, Venezuelans and the world will have to do with only limited access to Venezuelan oil.

So, for those of us positioned to gain from a long-term rising oil price, it’s heads we win, tails we win.


Additional Links and Reads

Oil Prices to Ease Further This Year (Reuters)

The CEO of Royal Dutch Shell expects oil prices to continue easing through the rest of the year, as demand reacts to a slowing global economy and international tensions ease. Peter Voser’s statement came just as Brent crude dropped to a 16-month low – below US$96 per barrel – on the heels of further weak economic news from the US and China. In addition, concerns over the state of the European economy have taken the spotlight away from the lingering tensions between Iran and Western powers, which just three months ago helped to push Brent above US$128 a barrel.

Global Gas Demand to Grow by 2.7% Annually to 2017 (Platts)

Global demand for natural gas will rise by 2.7% annually for the next five years, a faster growth rate than previously expected. China and the United States are driving the additional demand by switching from coal to gas to generate electricity. In China alone consumption is expected to double to 273 billion cubic meters in 2017 from 130 billion cubic meters today, representing an average growth rate of 13% per year.

King Coal Still Reigns Despite Drop in Prices (Vancouver Sun)

Canadian coal companies are not slowing down exploration nor development programs despite a drop in prices in China, their main export market. Companies are generally viewing depressed prices as a transient problem and see demand from Asia remaining strong in the medium term, especially for British Columbia’s high-quality metallurgical coal.

South Sudan’s $4-Billion Question Answered: Oil Revenue Stolen by Corrupt Officials (The Globe and Mail)

It has been a mystery for years: how does South Sudan remain so poor and hungry when it receives billions of dollars in oil revenues every year? The answer is now clear: South Sudan’s president says corrupt officials have stolen $4 billion in oil revenues since 2005. He is asking those officials to return the stolen funds. Any returned funds would be especially useful at the moment, because a dispute with Sudan has shut in South Sudan’s oil production and thereby eliminated about 98% of the government’s official revenue.

Oil Rush in the Arctic Gambles with Nature and Diplomacy (The Guardian)

A small group of international scientists, politicians, and business leaders are gathered in the Ny-Alesund research station on the Norwegian island of Svalbard to discuss the path to a global low-carbon economy. Meanwhile, just outside the station an oil rush looms – one that threatens to spark territorial disputes and saber-rattling as a host of nations compete to claim rights to the Arctic seabed.

Germany Plans Massive Wind Power Grid (The Globe and Mail)

Germany’s utilities have tabled plans to build four high-voltage electricity lines to link wind turbines off the north coast with manufacturing centers in the south. The plan is a boost for Angela Merkel, who has been criticized for announcing an accelerated nuclear-power phase-out a year ago without producing an alternative plan. The lines are expected to cost around €20 billion

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