Gulf of Mexico: US Gulf deepwater prospect list growing, as discovery rate slows

142 prospects await drilling, delineation

Editor's Note: This article features separate lists of US Gulf of Mexico discoveries and prospects, correcting a merged list that appeared in the October 2000 issue of Offshore and the subsequent interpretation.

Oil and gas producers report a total of 142 prospects in the deepwater US Gulf of Mexico that may be drilled or delineated in the coming years, a number that has grown rapidly over the past two years. Some prospects are reported as discoveries on certain lists, therefore have been reported once as a prospect and once as a discovery on these particular tables. Prospects are seismically defined anomolies that may or may not have been drilled. Most are unnamed, but some producers name prospects at the point of seismic inception.

In addition, producers have a total of 142 discoveries, which have not begun to produce, in water depths at or greater than 1,500 ft. Of this number, 35 are in some phase of engineering or construction, 29 are in some phase of engineering design or construction, 29 are in planning, and the remaining number (76), of named and unnamed discoveries, have no decisions. One discovery will not be developed.

Only five company-announced discoveries were reported in all of 2000 at presstime. However, the US Mineral Management Service (MMS) reported no discoveries for the year. Others were reported simply as unconfirmed discoveries. Some discoveries are announced before delineation or offset drilling. The five discoveries are below the 7-9 commercial discoveries per year in deepwater reported in the late 1990s. Of this number, 101 were named discoveries and 32 were unnamed.

The accumulation of undrilled and drilled prospects in deepwater is rational given three factors: the extremely high cost of deepwater development, the lack of a decision on the part of the MMS on the deployment of floating production vessels in the US Gulf of Mexico, and the low oil price ($14-17/bbl) used to compute commerciality of deepwater fields.

This last factor eliminates from development all the largest oil developments and usually those with nearby infrastructure or fairly streaightforward technology input. The following lists (discoveries and prospects) represents the best effort to aggregate disparate information and numbers. Disagreement usually develops in what is or is not a discovery, commercial or otherwise, and what constitutes a prospect. Some prospects are uncommercial discoveries, and many are not.

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