Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Oil exploration in Sierra Leone in 2011..Maybe a new frontier

          Oil and gas exploration has had a very short history in Sierra Leone. Although some seismic and G&G studies were carried out in in the past, there was not much potential seen for oil and gas deposits. All this changed with Anadarko’s Venus discovery in the deep waters offshore Sierra Leone in August 2009. Although this discovery was relatively thin (50 ft of net hydrocarbon pay), in water depth of 1800m, the discovery generated a lot of interest and opened up the potential for a multi-billion barrel oil frontier in West Africa. Linking the Venus discovery to the previous Jubilee find in Ghana which was discovered by Anadarko’s partner in that block, Kosmos Energy, gives a new interpretation of the petroleum geology in the region. The new Transform Margin (a place where 2 tectonic plates slide past each other) play was generating a lot of interest as it could potentially lead to a string of discoveries along its length. Although Venus was a significant discovery, it has still not been deemed to be commercial.

Figure 2: Map  showing the location of the Venus and Mercury discoveries. Blocks SL-06 and SL-07 have now been merged and are now together called Block SL-07B-10. Source: Anadarko

On the 15th of November 2010, Anadarko announced that it had struck oil with its Mercury-1 well which encountered approx. 135 net feet of oil pay in two Cretaceous-age fan systems. The well was drilled to a total depth of approx. 15,950 feet in about 5,250 feet of water. In the primary objective, the Mercury well encountered approx. 114 net feet of light sweet crude oil with a gravity of between 34 and 42 degrees API, with no water contact. An additional 21 net feet of 24-degree API crude was encountered in a shallower secondary objective. This discovery is almost certain to be declared commercial, although it has not yet been announced. Both, Venus and Mercury, discoveries were in Block SL-07B-10. A third exploration well on the Jupiter prospect is planned to be drilled in Q4, 2011. Anadarko (55%) operates the block and the partners are Repsol YPF (25%), Tullow Oil (10%) and Mitsubishi (10%).

African Petroleum Corporation Ltd., has a 100% interest in Block SL-03. The block covers an area of 3,135 km and is located ~ 150 km from the Mercury-1 discovery and 85 km from the Venus discovery. The company is planning an extensive 3D seismic survey over the block in 2011 to firm up exploration prospects. It is understood that drilling would occur in 2012, after processing and interpretation of the seismic data. 
Sierra Leone has had a long history of strife, turmoil and civil war. It is bordered by Guinea to the east Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic ocean to the west. After more than a century of colonial rule, the country gained independence in 1961. Its history since independence has been marked by widespread corruption and economic, social and educational deterioration. It culminated with the beginning of a 10 year long civil war in 1991 that is estimated to have cost the lives of 50,000 people, besides displacing 2 million more and causing  civilian populations to endure violence at the hands of opposing factions. In 2001, with the help of United Nations forces, rebel forces of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) were disarmed, and president Kabbah was re-elected to power, and he declared the civil war officially over. The current president is Ernest Bai Karoma, who was elected in the 2007 elections for a period of 5 years.

Figure 1: Map showing location of Sierra Leone (Red Polygon)

Sierra Leone is an extremely poor country and ranks 163 in its GDP compared to other countries in the world. 70% of the population is estimated to be below the poverty line (CIA). According to the CIA world factbook, its GDP in 2010 was $4.72 billion, a marginal increase from $4.498 billion in 2009 and $4.358billion in 2008. The biggest threat to its economic development is disruption of domestic peace and isolation from foreign aid. Economic and social infrastructure development has been severely stymied due to the long history of civilian unrest. However, relative peace since the end of the civil war in 2002, has offered the promise for economic rejuvenation and development of the country. GDP growth rate since 2002 has been between 4% and 7%. The country is endowed with rich mineral resources and the economy is overly dependant on mineral exploitation. Although agriculture employs most of the population, it accounts for only 42% of national income. The mineral extraction and exploitation industry generates most of the income although it has been managed poorly, with most of the income escaping formal channels, and used to fund rebel activities in the region. Diamond exports account for almost half of Sierra Leone’s exports, and remains the biggest source of earnings. A number of significant offshore oil discoveries in 2009 and 2010, could herald a new period of growth, although development of these reserves is still many years away.

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