Caribbean countries ram up oil exploration

BERT WILKINSON | 9/5/2019, 2:53 p.m.
Some Caribbean Community countries are rushing to ramp up oil and gas exploration, motivated by the runaway success Guyana has ...
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Some Caribbean Community countries are rushing to ramp up oil and gas exploration, motivated by the runaway success Guyana has had since first discovering commercial quantities back in mid 2015.

The latest of these is The Bahamas. Located in the gateway of the Gulf of Mexico where oil production has been a feature of life for decades, authorities there have signed up with a British drilling major to kick-start an ambitious drilling program early next year.

State-run Bahamas Petroleum Company said in the past week that it has concluded arrangements with Seadrill, one of the world’s largest offshore drilling rig firms, to bring in an ultra high-tech drilling ship to spud its first offshore well. The BPC has also signed off on deals with the infamous Halliburton company to provide support services, equipment, tools and drilling plans for the state, firm officials said.

As it gets ready for offshore exploration, The Bahamas will join Jamaica, Barbados, and Grenada among Caricom nations ramping up efforts either to conduct seismic testing work offshore or to prepare for the first set of exploration wells in the coming months.

Of these, Jamaica appears to have the most exciting of the prospects as Tullow Oil of the United Kingdom has already completed seismic work off Jamaica’s south coast. Local fishermen constantly point officials to fresh water surface oil seeps. Authorities earlier this year also investigated oil and gas seeps at inland sites, raising hopes that a commercial find is just months away. Grenada on the other hand is dealing with Russian oil firms. Seismic work done in the past year also indicate the presence of hydrocarbons, according to Prime Minister Keith Mitchell.

Barbados, meanwhile, has done much of the preliminary work to get Australia-based Billiton and Repsol of Spain as interested partners in drilling offshore, especially in waters between the island and oil- and gas-rich Trinidad.

Barbados has for decades been an oil producer from a small amount of inland wells, yielding about 1,600 barrels per day. The other main producer is Suriname, also benefiting from inland wells in western Suriname near Guyana at the rate of about 16,000 barrels per day. It is yet to find oil offshore, but the wild shout across the river border in Guyana where Exxon and Tullow oil have combined for 14 humungous wells have raised the hopes of similar finds in the much-heralded Guyana-Suriname Basin. Actual production in Guyana is set for mid-November, making the country the world’s newest and most exciting producer.

Bahamian officials say the exploration work will commence “with or without” a major “farm-in” partner like Exxon or Chevron, as government has already tied up the framework deal with Seadrill for the rig and support services from Halliburton. Costs could run up to $50 million, which it will try to raise for the drilling campaign.

All this is happening as Guyana, set to easily become the region’s largest producer in a matter of weeks, is preparing for the arrival this week of a massive Floating Production Storage and Offloading vessel which will be used as the main storage and processing facility once production begins in earnest. The Liza Destiny was built in Singapore and is expected to pull up near the first set of wells to be hooked up to underground systems. President David Granger and top energy officials are scheduled to fly to the FPSO at the weekend for a ceremony that would predate first oil by just a matter of weeks.

The vessel can store up to 1.6 million barrels of oil. The oil find now puts Guyana in line to become one of the richest countries per capita in the hemisphere over the next decade as production ramps up to nearly 1 million barrels per day.

This is as excitement builds in neighboring Suriname as some of the same players—Exxon, Repsol and Tullow—all have interest there.

The Bahamas’ state company said it must begin its drilling program next year in keeping with its license or it will have to relinquish up to 50 percent of its concession in keeping with regulations.