Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines

Kaombo Norte, a storage vessel off the coast of Angola. The African country is offering tax breaks to lift production. (AFP)
Updated 16 November 2018

Angola battles to revive oil exploration as output declines

  • Without another mega-project like Total’s Kaombo on the horizon and fields getting old, Africa’s second-largest crude producer is facing a steep decline
  • Sonangol, the state oil company, is negotiating contracts for new blocks with oil majors and Angola plans to hold an auction next year

LUANDA: On Saturday, nearly two decades after securing the initial rights, Total’s CEO, Patrick Pouyanne, was in Luanda to snip the ribbon on a $16 billion oil project. It is not clear when he, or his peers, will be celebrating in Angola again.

Without another mega-project like Total’s Kaombo on the horizon and fields getting old, Africa’s second-largest crude producer is facing a steep decline unless it can revive exploration in what was once one of the world’s most exciting offshore prospects.
Sonangol, the state oil company, is negotiating contracts for new blocks with oil majors and Angola plans to hold an auction next year, the first tender for exploration rights since 2011.
It is a race against time for a country where oil accounts for 95 percent of exports and around 70 percent of government revenues. Luck will also play a part, as it always does in exploration where finding oil can never be guaranteed.
But without new projects, output could fall to 1 million barrels per day by 2023, according to the oil ministry. That is down from 1.5 million today and nearly half of what Angola was producing a decade ago. The country risks having its OPEC quota cut and is struggling to ensure the long-term feed for its $10 billion liquid natural gas plant.
President Joao Lourenco won an August 2017 election promising an “economic miracle” in Angola, which despite its oil wealth struggles to provide basic services to a mostly impoverished population that is growing at 3 percent a year. But falling oil production means a third consecutive contraction is expected in 2018, even while annual inflation runs at 18 percent.
To turn things around, Angola has asked international oil companies to the table, offering better fiscal terms and more collaboration.
With the time from exploration to first oil on new areas anything from five to 10 years, Angola is also offering tax breaks to encourage companies to link existing marginal discoveries to operating production platforms.
There are signs the measures are working, though some oil experts wonder at what cost for the southwest African country.
“The level of exploration activity in Angola is beginning to change,” Sonangol’s chairman, Carlos Saturnino, said at Saturday’s inauguration.
He expects between five and 10 new concessions to be signed next year.
Exxon, he said, had shown interest in some blocks in southern Angola’s unexplored Namib basin, while advanced discussions are being held with BP, Equinor and ENI for the rights to the ultra-deep offshore blocks 46 and 47.
BP and ENI declined to comment. Equinor and Exxon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Total, which operates 40 percent of Angola’s production, plans to drill its first exploration well in four years. Beneath 3,630m of water on block 48, it will be one of the world’s deepest.
“We hope it will be a play-opener for the ultra-deep in Angola,” said Andre Goffart, senior vice president for development. “We are seeing a new wave of exploration in Angola.”
These signs of fresh exploration come after a period of near-paralysis due to a lack of drilling success, a slump in oil prices and a deteriorating relationship between Sonangol and the oil majors.
Angola’s offshore reserves are expensive to explore and develop, making it a hard sell for shareholders when oil is at $40. The number of rigs operating off Angola’s shores dropped from 18 in early 2014 to just two in 2017, according to oil services company Baker Hughes.
The steep drop in prices from 2014 came just as companies were smarting from the failure to discover Brazil-like oil
reservoirs beneath a layer of salt on the African side of the Atlantic. The search for the “Angolan pre-salt” resulted in some of the most expensive dry wells ever drilled and sapped exploration appetite.
Critics say the situation was exacerbated by Isabel dos Santos, the former president’s daughter and previous chair of Sonangol, under whose leadership new projects ground to a halt. Dos Santos denies allegations of mismanagement, saying she helped turn around an almost bankrupt company.
“There are few places in the world right now where the oil majors are in as good a negotiating position as here,” said one international oil executive in Luanda on condition of anonymity.
Some local experts fear the deals Angola is striking are too beneficial for the companies, although details remain private.
“If Angola gives away too much it could create problems further down the line,” said Jose Oliveira, an oil specialist at the Catholic University in Luanda.
But the country has little choice given its imminent production decline and a lack of money or expertise to lead the drilling campaigns itself.


Big oil feels the heat on climate as industry leader promises: ‘We will be different’

Updated 22 January 2020

Big oil feels the heat on climate as industry leader promises: ‘We will be different’

  • Trump singles out ‘prophets of doom’ for attack
  • Greenpeace told the Davos gathering that the world’s largest banks, funds and insurance companies had invested $1.4 trillion in fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal

LONDON: Teenage environmental activist Greta Thunberg slammed inaction over climate change as the global oil industry found itself under intense scrutiny on the opening day of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

The teenage campaigner went head to head with US President Donald Trump, who dismissed climate “prophets of doom” in his speech.
She in turn shrugged off the US president’s pledge to join the economic forum’s initiative to plant 1 trillion trees to help capture carbon dioxide.
“Planting trees is good, of course, but it’s nowhere near enough,” Thunberg said. “It cannot replace mitigation. We need to start listening to the science and treat this crisis with the importance it deserves,” the 17-year-old said.
The 50th meeting of the World Economic Forum was dominated by the global threat posed by climate change and the carbon economy.
The environmental focus of Davos 2020 caps a year when carbon emissions from fossil fuels hit a record high, and the devastating effects of bushfires in Australia and other climate disasters dominated the news.
Oil company executives from the Gulf and elsewhere are in the spotlight at this year’s Davos meeting as they come under increased pressure to demonstrate how they are reducing their carbon footprint.
“We are not only fighting for our industry’s life but fighting for people to understand the things that we are doing,” said Vicki Hollub, CEO of Occidental, the US-based oil giant with extensive oil operations in the Gulf. “As an industry when we could be different — we will be different.”

‘Planting trees is good, but nowhere near enough,’ activist Greta Thunberg told Davos. (Shutterstock)

She said the company was getting close to being able to sequester significant volumes of CO2 in the US Permian Basin, the heartland of the American shale oil industry which is increasingly in competition with the conventional oil producers of the Arabian Gulf.
“The Permian Basin has the capacity to store 150 gigatons of CO2. That would be 28 years of emissions in the US. That’s the prize for us and that’s the opportunity. People say if you’re sequestering in an oil reservoir then you are producing more oil, but the reality is that it takes more CO2 to inject into a reservoir than the barrel of oil that it makes come out,” Hollub said.
The challenge Occidental and other oil companies face is to make investors understand what is happening in this area of carbon sequesteration, she added.
The investment community at Davos is also looking hard at the oil industry in the face of mounting investor concerns.
Greenpeace told the Davos gathering that the world’s largest banks, funds and insurance companies had invested $1.4 trillion in fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal. It accused some of these groups of failing to live up to the World Economic Forum goal of “improving the state of the world.”