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African Exploration: No player is giving room to chance

Following what has hitherto been regarded as successful exploration campaigns in Namibia, Côte d’Ivoire, Congo, Algeria, Egypt, and Gabon in 2022, analysts now believe that Africa’s exploration landscape is really set for intensive upstream activity throughout 2023 and ongoing, with renewed hope among stakeholders that much more deliveries ahead especially from the continent’s established frontier basins.

Within the Orange Basin – Namibia and then South Africa, exploration activities are expected to make front-Pages in both local and international dailies, says analysts.

Shell’s activities which started with the new year, recording a third light oil discovery on PEL 39 at the Jonker-1X well, whose success also trailed the drilling of Graff-1 and La Rona-1 last year while opening a new petroleum province in the Orange Basin offshore Namibia was a milestone. It’s to be recalled that since this stride, several international operators like Chevron and Woodside Energy have gone all out jostling for the neighbouring blocks – Chevron in 2022 and Woodside Energy in 2023.

TotalEnergies is not leaving any stone unturned as the French oil major was also reported to have resumed drilling just west of Shell’s block where it had made a landslide discovery at Venus-1 last sometime year. The company is spending $300m on its exploration programme in Namibia this year to deploy two drilling rigs, it was gathered. Also in the news is that the Tungsten Explorer drillship is expected to start with the Venus-1A appraisal well as this Q1 of 2023 peters out, and then leaves to drill another new exploration wells within the adjacent Block 2912, also operated by the French Major. Drilling on that second block will target the Nara-1 well and a potential Nara-1A appraisal well, which will both include drill stem tests (DSTs), according to an email to Energy Window International by AOW Officials. The second rig, Deepsea Mira, will not be expected before the middle of this year but may be mobilized for DSTs operations both at Venus-1A and Venus-1. So while Namibia will capture most of the industry’s attention over the coming months, South Africa could be next towards the end of 2023, AOW sources said.

Africa Oil Corp, operator of Block 3B/4B, also has worked with partners Eco Atlantic Oil & Gas and Ricocure on reprocessing 3D seismic data and preparing for a 2-well drilling campaign this year. A new farm-in partner is expected on the block soon to progress the drilling programme which would likely target the Wolf prospect. Some of Africa’s most established petroleum provinces in the Gulf of Guinea are not left out in sharing the spotlight with Namibia this year, especially the Republic of Congo and Gabon.

In Congo, Eni has already started exploratory drilling on Marine VI bis, a block which has been reported to hold several prospects whose maturity spans over the past few years, including Mbenga, Poalvou Deep, and Ikalou SW.

While Congo remains the largest producer in Central Africa, output is said to have been stagnated, as the country’s oil & gas industry has only been benefiting from fresh discoveries. Last year for instance, two exploration wells showed signs of prospectivity, including Mercuria’s Lidongo Marine-1 well and Perenco’s TCHNEM 1-01 well that made a discovery at the pre-salt Vandji prospect on the PNGF Sud license.

Gabon it was gathered, is also betting on additional exploration spending by operators this year as it embarks on several drilling campaigns delayed since the COVID-19 pandemic. Reports indicate that all eyes are currently on CNOOC who started drilling earlier this year with the Stena Ice MAX. The drillship they say is mobilized for two wells, including Tigre-1 on block BC9 previously operated by Shell. In 2014, the major’s Leopard-1 well had encountered a substantial gas column with around 200 metres of net gas pay in the same license email has disclosed, as oil discovery at Tigre is expected to further unlock Gabon’s deep-water potential, a country which has only and before now produced oil and gas from onshore and shallow water areas. It is believed that Gabon’s producing blocks could equally deliver new discoveries as operators pursue infrastructure-led exploration, hoping to replicate VAALCO Energy’s success at its South Tchibala 1HB-ST well on Etame Marin last year.

On Tchatamba South, Perenco is likely to drill the Simba Extension this year to unlock additional reserves from the block. Similarly,
BW Energy could decide to add exploration wells to its drilling campaign on Hibiscus/Ruche Phase 1 that started in January. The company’s contract with the Borr Norve includes four firm wells plus four option wells, including two exploration ones, sources have disclosed.

Mozambique 2023 is expected to see Eni Mozambique finally spud the Raia-1 well on Block 5A within the Angoche Basin, a block reported to have been awarded to Eni during Mozambique’s 5th Licensing Round whose Exploration and Production Concession Contract was signed in October 2018, with a farm-out agreement subsequently signed to allow Qatar Energy to acquire a 25.5% participating interest in the license. Aquadrill’s Capella drillship is expected to spud the well in the middle of this year, and whose discovery would further confirm Mozambique’s exploration potential while opening up a new offshore basin in south eastern Africa.
After Invictus Energy identified 13 potential hydrocarbon bearing zones in Zimbabwe last year, the independent operator will recommence drilling in 2023 with the aim of confirming a discovery, email disclosed. Report further indicates that Phase 2 drilling campaign within this zone is likely to include the Mukuyu-2 appraisal well and the Baobab-1 well, discovery from there which is also likely to significantly impact on Southern Africa’s energy security, especially for landlocked countries seeking to procure cheaper and cleaner fuels for power and industries. While the MSGBC Basin will start producing offshore oil and gas this year, it will also be subject to new exploratory drilling that could
further demonstrate its world-class hydrocarbons potential, email disclosed.

In Guinea-Bissau, PetroNor E&P has until October 2023 to drill one exploration well on the Sinapa (Block 2) and Esperança (Blocks 4A and 5A) licences, the operator has already undertaken a full review of a potential well location, with the Atum prospect being the key drill target, and now left for the operator and its partner FAR to secure, according to email, a farm down agreement ahead of drilling. Operators and analysts are hoping that a successful drilling in Guinea-Bissau would rekindle interest for offshore exploration in the region after what was referred to as “disappointing results” of Bambo-1 in The Gambia at the end of 2021

Angola houses the highest number of offshore rigs in sub-Saharan Africa even as IOCs were said to have proceeded with several brownfield and greenfield development plans on several deep-water blocks. Infrastructure-led exploration has proven very successful for Eni, and equally for ExxonMobil who announced a discovery at Bavuca Sul-1 on Block 15 last year. There are indicators that all IOCs already have active rigs in the country and could make additional discoveries this year. Meanwhile exploration activity in Angola has so far been focused on proven basins, although there are still strong indicators that IOCs are increasingly seeking to venture into frontier areas as well at the moment. ExxonMobil had at the beginning of the year recommitted to a $200m exploration programme within Blocks 30, 44 and 45 in the Namibe Basin, with an exploratory well to be drilled as early as 2024.

In Ghana, exploration has not been exciting notwithstanding the successful discovery at Eban-1X in 2021 by the Italian Eni, as well as the spudding of several other key exploration wells which have been repeatedly delayed, however operators are still keeping hopes of spudding the wells in 2023 well alive.

Other key campaigns to watch in 2023 will certainly not exclude the drilling of the Edinam-1X and Mansonia-1X wells on the OSWT Block operated by GOSCO, of Kusia-1X on the Central Tano Block operated by AMNI Petroleum International, and of Aprokuma-1X on the CTP4 Block also operated by Eni.

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