Major West Africa discoveries keeping exploration fresh

Angola, Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea in forefront

Th 0200osoverview

The year 1999 was another record-breaking year for offshore West Africa. Along the coastline, companies such as Esso and Elf have celebrated success with music and flowers. Once again, Angola has topped the list in terms of the greatest amount of exploration and production activity in the region - if not the world.

Th 0200osoverview
Elf and Esso have added several new discoveries to their respective blocks offshore Angola. Elf has named its discoveries in Block 17 after flowers, while Esso has named its Block 15 after African musical instruments.
Click here to enlarge image

However, Nigeria is not far behind - once again. Both countries have experienced enormous success in the past 12 months, and if this prosperity continues, 2000 could be the year that moves West Africa above all others in terms of offshore activity and prospectivity.


Despite activity still rebounding from the oil price downturn, Angola cannot attain much higher levels. In the past few months, the country has changed the face of the West Africa's oil industry forever.

First, Chevron has turned Angola from a deepwater exploration province to a deepwater production province. The company brought the Kuito Field in Block 14 onstream in mid-December and marked first production from the country's deepwater. The field is producing 50,000 b/d of oil to a floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) vessel in 1,300 ft water depths, just two and one half years following discovery. Chevron plans a peak production rate of 100,000 b/d of oil by the end of the first quarter.

Secondly, despite entering a new era of production, exploration is still king in Angolan waters, and Elf is once again wearing the crown. Elf, although having trouble bringing its own deepwater Girassol field onstream, compensated by added four discoveries to its already impressive bouquet in Block 17, bringing the total for the block up to eight major discoveries.

Elf began the year with Tulipa-1, which was drilled in 3,300 ft water depth. The well flowed at a test rate of 7,000 b/d of oil. Following Tulipa, Elf found success with the Orquidea 1 well in 3,900 ft water depth. The well encountered oil bearing intervals totaling 157 ft. Shortly after, Elf added the Cravo 1 discovery in 4,451 ft water depth. Cravo 1 flowed at a test rate of 12,300 b/d of oil.

Finally on New Year's Eve, the company notched Camelia 1 in 4,250 ft water depth at a test rate of 9,000 b/d. Block 17 includes such deepwater giants as Girassol and Dalia. All the fields in the block are named for flowers. With these new additions, total reserves for the block are estimated at 3.5 billion boe.

Esso, Elf's strongest competitor in the region, did not sit idly by. The company added its fifth and sixth discoveries in Block 15 to a list of fields named for African musical instruments. The first discovery on the year was Chocalho. The well was drilled in 3,763 ft water depth and tested 4,554 b/d of oil. Esso followed up with Xicomba in 4,445 ft water depth. Xicomba tested 1,435 b/d of oil. Reserves for this block are estimated at 2 billion boe.


Nigeria remains close behind Angola in an attempt to regain the country's position as the oil and gas leader off West Africa. Despite social disturbances threatening the oil province, two big events signaled to the rest of the world that Nigeria was down but not out.

  • The most important news for Nigeria came just months ago when Texaco announced that following the Agbami-2 appraisal well, the Agbami structure in OPL 216 and 217 holds potential recoverable reserves in excess of one billion boe. Texaco said that the structure ranks among the largest single finds to date in the deepwater off West Africa and anticipates production at rates of 150,000-300,000 b/d of oil.
  • Shell also made a strong move for the country when it announced that Nigeria will be a deepwater producer in 2003 by granting approval of the $2.7 billion development of the Bonga Field in OPL 212. The field is expected to begin production to a floating production, storage, and offloading (FPSO) vessel in the second quarter of 2003 with peak rates of 200,000 b/d of oil and 150 MMcf/d of gas expected to be achieved in 2004.

With this spur in deepwater activity, interest in the Nigeria deepwater is at record levels, and the government could not be happier. The country is expected to open a deepwater licensing round this month and offer 16 new deepwater tracts for bidding. With these recent events, these tracts could attract bids at levels near those last witnessed when Angola licensed its deepwater.

Equatorial Guinea

Despite weak results from the country's last licensing round, the oil industry of Equatorial Guinea seems to be back on the map, thanks to Dallas-based Triton Energy. The small independent opened many eyes when it announced the discovery of the Ceiba Field in the deepwater of Block G off Equatorial Guinea.

The discovery well, Mbini-1 drilled in 2,200 ft water depth, flowed 12,401 b/d of oil. The appraisal well, Ceiba-2, drilled approximately one mile to the southwest and 342 ft down-dip of the discovery well, encountered net oil-bearing pay of 300 ft in a single, continuous column. With these results, Triton opted for a fast-track development.

The government has since approved the company's $90 million development plan which calls for four wells tied into an FPSO with 60,000 b/d capacity. The initial phase of development will begin producing 52,000 b/d of oil by the fourth quarter of this year.


With the success of these three countries, West Africa might have been considered immune to the lasting effects of the recent oil price downturn. However, despite Angola, Nigeria, and Equatorial Guinea, other countries in the region have proven that West Africa is feeling some pain.

  • Côte d'Ivoire, for example, saw its chances at being a deepwater province diminish with Ocean Energy's dry hole on the Grand Lahou prospect in CI-105.
  • Gabon felt the pangs of a weak market when its licensing round failed to attract a significant number of bids.

But as activity continues to gather speed and projects begin to move forward, the success of the Gulf of Guinea is sure to spread along the coast and pave the way for the rest of West Africa.

More in Home