Friday, January 08, 2010

big oil at sea

WSJ | Beyond the Gulf of Mexico, companies have announced big finds off the coasts of Brazil and Ghana, leading some experts to suggest the existence of a massive oil reservoir stretching across the Atlantic from Africa to South America. Production from deepwater projects -- those in water at least 1,000 feet deep -- grew by 67%, or by about 2.3 million barrels a day, between 2005 and 2008, according to PFC Energy, a Washington consulting firm.

The discoveries come as many of the giant oil fields of the past century are beginning to dry up, and as some experts are warning that global oil production could soon reach a peak and begin to decline. The new deepwater fields represent a huge and largely untapped source of oil, which could help ease fears that the world won't be able to meet demand for energy, which is expected to grow rapidly in coming years.

For oil companies, the discoveries mean something more: After a decade of retreat, large Western energy companies are taking back the lead in the quest to find oil. "A lot of people can get the very easy oil," says George Kirkland, Chevron's vice chairman. "There's just not a lot of it left."

There are challengers to Big Oil's deepwater dominance. Brazil recently has moved to give a larger share of its offshore oil to its state-run oil company, Petrobras. A handful of smaller companies, such as Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Tullow Oil PLC, have had success offshore, particularly in Ghana, where giants like BP and Exxon Mobil Corp. are now playing catch-up.

The enormous investments of time and money required for such projects have made many experts skeptical that they can ease the long-term pressure on global oil supplies. The scale of the projects means that few smaller companies have the resources to take them on. Devon Energy Corp., an independent producer based in Oklahoma City, recently announced plans to abandon its deepwater-exploration business to focus on less-expensive onshore projects, which is says will produce a better return.

"This is technology capable of going to the moon," says Robin West, chairman of consulting firm PFC Energy, involving "extraordinary uncertainty, immense levels of information processing, staggering amounts of capital." Comments

0 comments: