Blocks’ hydrocarbon potential spurs industry optimism

BHP Billiton Petroleum's confidence over success in the nine Trinidad and Tobago deepwater blocks of which it is the operator is understandable, considering the amount of money it is dishing out on 3-D seismic acquisition and the drilling of several wells. (It is responsible for the lion's share of upward of US$1 billion.)

Vincent Anthony Pereira, president and country manager of BHP Billiton Trinidad and Tobago, stresses that the company “fundamentally believes in the hydrocarbon system which is at work in the deep water.

Trinidad and Tobago is an established hydrocarbon theatre and sits within a deltaic framework that is one of the very significant deltaic systems in the world.”

Mr. Pereira's enthusiasm is echoed by senior executives of BHP Billiton, who speak of the nine deepwater blocks — 23a, 23b, TTDAA 14, TTDAA 28 and TTDAA 29 northeast of Tobago and TTDAA 3, TTDAA 5, TTDAA 6 and TTDAA 7 well east of Trinidad — in such terms as “unique, “very exciting” and capable of becoming “BHP Billiton Petroleum's third core area after the U.S. and Australia.”

Not even the fall in the international price has caused the company to “withdraw” any of its enthusiasm because, as Mr. Pereira points out, it takes a “long-term view” of its hydrocarbon-rich investments.

There are solid geological reasons that underpin the company's belief in finding hydrocarbons in deep water (defined by the Ministry of Energy and Energy Affairs as a depth of 1,000 to 3,500 metres or more), which is why Minister Kevin Christian Ramnarine also echoes the company’s belief that it will come up trumps.

Among the factors cited by Ramnarine:

  • The “depositional environment,” thanks to the Orinoco river system that has made Venezuela's Orinoco delta very prospective for oil and gas. Indeed, the Plataforma Deltana area just offshore is the location of the cross-border gas accumulations that Venezuela shares with Trinidad and Tobago
  • The existence of a source rock, the cretaceous, which generates the oil and gas that eventually migrates to the reservoir rocks
  • 2-D seismic data originally acquired in 2002 and reprocessed in 2011 “shows the existence of big reservoir systems and large traps,” to quote the Minister in a recent speech at the 20th Caribbean Geological Conference. These two essential features, the Minister stresses, “will be made much easier to see and understand using the newly-acquired 3-D seismic, which was of high quality and has allowed for faster processing.”

Added to all this is the “Atlantic mirror” theory, which says that what happens in exploration and production offshore West Africa could be “mirrored” on the other side of the Atlantic in places such as French Guiana, Suriname, Guyana, northern Brazil, and Trinidad and Tobago.

This has already proved true in the case of French Guiana, where Tullow Energy and Royal Dutch Shell discovered oil with their very first well in the offshore, named Zaedyus, in late 2011.

ExxonMobil's oil strike with the Liza 1 well offshore Guyana also strengthens the theory.

Whether this will be yet another factor in BHP Billiton’s eventual success remains to be seen, but leading geologist Dr. Krishna Persad has suggested the analogue in Trinidad and Tobago's case may not be offshore Ghana, as with Zaedyus and Liza, but deepwater Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea.

The Nigerian example is particularly heartening, since like Trinidad and Tobago in 1998-2002, companies explored in semi-deep water on the Nigerian continental slope and found no commercial oil or gas deposits.

But as soon as they went farther out onto the continental floor, they hit pay dirt.

BHP Billiton Petroleum has now followed precisely that move in Trinidad and Tobago, and Minister Ramnarine seems to expect similar results.

If the Ministry estimates of deepwater fossil fuel resources is a reliable guide, the payoff could be big. The estimates range from 3.1 billion barrels of oil to a high of 8.2 billion barrels and, in the case of gas, between 11.4 trillion and 37.8 trillion cubic feet (tcf).