Sunday, February 18, 2018

Double whammy for energy production


Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine

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Our Energy and Energy Affairs Minister Kevin Ramnarine says it keeps him awake at nights and one can well understand why.

Trinidad and Tobago's plummeting crude oil production situation is not just alarming.

It is terrifying.

Latest data available to me shows the country's liquids production to have been 84,988 b/d in December, 2011.

This was the lowest of all the 12 months in the year.

The average for the period was 91,919 b/d.

Thirty-four years ago, Trinidad and Tobago was producing an average of 229,589 b/d.

As recently as 2005, when BHPBilliton Trinidad and Tobago's Kairi and Canteen oil discoveries came on stream, the average for the year was 144,339 b/d.

So 84,988 b/d is a disaster, depriving us of hundreds of millions of dollars more in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), not to mention public sector revenue, which means we are poorer, per capita, than we would otherwise be.

But it gets worse.

That 84,988 b/d is not all crude oil; in fact 16,520 b/d of it is what is known as condensate, which come with gas production and liquifies at the surface, where the pressure is lower.

It is a good liquid to have, because it is usually of a higher API gravity but it is entirely dependent on gas.

Fortunately for us our gas output has been rising in recent years, so condensate has been propping up the liquids figure but condensate, too, is now declining, mainly because some of our newer gas reservoirs have fewer liquids in them. BHPBilliton, now a player on the gas, as well as oil, scene, produced 426 million cubic feet a day (mmcfd) of gas in December but not a drop of condensate (at least MEEA's data doesn't show it to have done so).

Overall condensate production fell from 30,114 b/d in January to the 16,520 b/d earlier mentioned in December.

That's a double whammy of the worst kind.

What can the minister do to ensure he at least gets a few more hours rest at night?

Well, he can look to the long term.

After all, Trinidad and Tobago does not lack crude oil reserves or resources, call them what you will.

We have billions of barrels of heavy oil, located in land in south Trinidad and in the Gulf of Paria, mainly under the control of the company, Petrotrin, but it has never been exploited in any determined way, principally because it was too expensive to do so and the company preferred to concentrate on its easier and less costly medium gravity oil.

We also have tar sands, which are even more expensive to extract from the sandstone reservoirs, covering an estimated 12.84 sq km in south Trinidad in which they are buried.

We even have left-behind oil in conventional reservoirs, which can be accessed through a variety of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) methods, with our leading geologist, Dr Krishna Persad, favouring carbon dioxide (CO2) injection as best means of doing so but that, too, will cost considerable sums of money.

Other longer-term possibilities for arresting the current collapse in crude oil output are discoveries in the new areas in which some companies are exploring deeper land horizons and deeper horizons in the shallow waters offshore. Both Parex and Niko are currently engaged in such an exercise but the chance of success is still very uncertain.

So the long term is too long to wait and, in any event, I believe it was the famous economist John Maynard Keynes who once said: "In the long run, we are all dead."

So, I would advise minister Ramnarine not to wait on any of the above he would probably die of too many sleepless nights if he did and look instead to the activities of the myriad number of small companies that now dot the Trinidad energy landscape and give them as much encouragement as he can.

The prognosis for these smaller entities is actually much more promising than it is for bigger operators, such as Petrotrin and the others who would be required to chase after the heavy oil, tar sands and deep horizons where the future may, or may not, lie.

Their approach is to take on acreage that has been around for some time and work it more intensively than has been done in the past, not necessarily using Dr Persad's EOR processes but drilling new development wells in areas where the presence of hydrocarbons has already been established and, most important of all, undertaking entirely new exploration, in the expectation of identifying undiscovered pools of oil.

Here's a rundown of what some of these minnows are doing:

Bayfield Energy which entered Trinidad and Tobago in April, 2009, when it took over Petrotrin's Galeota block off southeast Trinidad and has already proved its worth by boosting crude output up to 2,000 b/d, by rehabilitating old wells and reaching out to new locations from its existing platforms.

Bayfield Galeota's managing director is Simon Gill, a Trinidadian by birth and the group's CEO is Hywel Rhys Richard John, a very amiable gentleman.

Bayfield embarked on a seven-well exploration programme in January this year and has already made a discovery with its first well, EG8, which encountered ten hydrocarbon-bearing sandstone reservoir zones between 1,364 feet and 6,000 feet, with net hydrocarbon thickness of 421 feet, of which 352 feet was gas and 69 feet oil.

It would have been better if it were the other way around but, nevertheless, Bayfield has already conducted a mini drill stem test, which indicated production potential of over 1,000 b/d of oil.

A second exploratory well, EG7, will shortly commence.

Trinity Exploration and Production (formerly Ten Degrees North Energy) will make history this year, when it becomes the first local oil company to invite the public in a major world city like London, to become its shareholders.

Its executive chairman Bruce Dingwall was also born in Trinidad, to English parents.

Joel (Monty) Pemberton, Trinity CEO, says he wants to raise at least US$50 million, to help him fund a major programme of activity that will lead to more oil production and enable the minister to get a bit of shut eye.

In 2011, veteran oilman Charlie Brash merged his Oilbelt Services Ltd (OSL) company with Trinity, taking shares in exchange for doing so.

This brought Trinity's land-based production up to around 2,700 b/d.

It also operates two offshore blocks, Brighton Marine/Guapo and Point Ligoure, where major drilling programmes will be undertaken in 2012/2013.

Trinity is even thinking of bidding for one of the upcoming deepwater blocks and was reported to be present when the ministry launched the round with a road show in Houston at the end of February (and not London, as erroneously reported in another business supplement).

The likes of ConocoPhillips, Hess Oil, Noble Energy, EOG Resources, Kosmos Energy, Murphy, Reliance, Petrobras and GDFSuez turned up for the occasion, along with the old stagers, BP, BG, BHPBilliton and RepsolYPF.

Parex Resources Trinidad Ltd: Straddles both the small and medium-sized company classification, since it also has productive assets in Colombia, unlike Bayfield whose only producing location is Trinidad and Tobago.

It made the first discovery of new oil on land for decades in 2011, with the Snowcap well in the Cory Moruga block which initially flowed at 1,450 b/d and 6.2 million cubic feet of gas a day (mmcfd).

It will shortly be drilling the Snowcap 2 appraisal well.

Its Firecrown well has been less successful, with well bore conditions preventing proper testing, so it will drill a sidetrack.

It will also be sinking a third exploration well in Moruga, Green Hermit. Parex has not yet started to produce oil on a regular basis but will, no doubt, soon be doing so.

My space has run out, so I can't tell you about Range Resources, Touchstone, Leni Oil and Gas, Moraven and others but will do so soon.

David Renwick was awarded the Hummingbird Medal (Gold) in 2008 for the development of energy journalism in Trinidad and Tobago.