Oil exploration in deep water is still an area reserved for a few stakeholders. The Brazilian company Petrobras has achieved very good results with its own technology developed to remove the oil from the lower layers of the “pre-salt”. For its part “Total” get Angola’s oil deep sea, in a geological area similar to the Brazilian basin.
“Brazil will become an important country in our portfolio,” said Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of Total, recently. The French oil company will benefit from the upcoming start of a giant project in deep water, 170 km off Rio de Janeiro. It holds a 20% stake in this field, called “Libra”, alongside the Brazilian national company Petrobras (40%), Shell (20%) and the Chinese CNPC and Cnooc (10% each). The first drops of oil should come out of the wells from mid-November, with a few weeks behind schedule, announced Petrobras last Wednesday.
This is still a test phase, where production will be limited to 50,000 barrels a day. The final dimension of the project remains to be determined. Libra is already the field of all superlatives. It covers an area of 1,550 km2 in the South Atlantic, almost the equivalent of the Val-d’Oise department. The location of the deposit, more than 2,000 meters below sea level, makes it one of the deepest in the world. The oil is under thick layers of salt – it is referred to as a “pre-salt” field, which makes its exploitation particularly complicated.
Total highlights its expertise in deep offshore, acquired especially off Angola, an area whose geology is close to that of the Brazilian basin. Expected production should be commensurate with the investment made. Total and Petrobras announce a production of 150,000 barrels a day from 2021, which would make Libra one of the most productive deposits in the world. Reserves are estimated at between 3 and 4 billion barrels, the equivalent of 35 years of production.
Petrobras and Total have cut costs as much as possible to cope with falling oil prices. The objective is to bring the breakeven point of the project, including investments, to less than $35 per barrel.
The French group is exploring a total of fifteen offshore blocks in Brazilian waters. The projects are all less advanced than Libra, but one of them, Foz de Amazonas, is already causing much controversy.
Located off the mouth of the Amazon River, the drilling area envisioned by Total and its partner BP is less than 30 km from a coral reef. Greenpeace denounces the environmental risk that the project would represent for the reef, as well as for the coastal areas of Brazil and neighboring countries (including French Guyana) in the event of an oil spill.
The Brazilian environmental agency rejected the study submitted by Total, demanding more details on how the oil company intended to reduce the ecological risks of the project. Total is therefore reviewing its proposal.