Brazil’s rise to the challenge

25 October 2018

Pushing further offshore and into deeper water to find new reserves is a huge logistical and technical challenge. Jim Banks speaks to Solange da Silva Guedes, head of exploration and production at Petrobras, to find out how this challenge is being met in Brazil’s Campos and Santos Basins.

Across the world, there are many new ventures being launched to uncover potentially huge reserves of oil and gas in deepwater regions. In Norway, many contracts have been awarded to enable oil companies to explore further into the North Sea. Offshore discoveries near Guyana are being sold to oil majors, and off the coast of Canada, the data suggests great potential for new oil and gas discoveries.

In Brazil, the summer saw the fourth auction of offshore drilling rights since September, 2017, with consortia including the likes of Chevron, Exxon Mobil and Norway’s Equinor bidding for prize assets. The heavy interest suggests the country’s potential as a producer is huge, and the International Energy Agency is already predicting that, outside of OPEC, Brazil could soon be second only to the US in its contribution to the growth in oil supplies in the years ahead.

The Campos Basin is already a key site for deepwater production. The first deepwater discoveries made by Petrobras were in the 1970s, and the company has undergone a long technological journey to put itself in a strong strategic position to develop offshore reserves, and it firmly believes that the discoveries it made before reaching the pre-salt exploratory frontier will be surpassed in the future.

“The Campos Basin, despite being in operation for more than 40 years, still has great potential,” says Solange da Silva Guedes, chief exploration and production office at Petrobras. “In this region, we are counting on reservoir management to increase the recovery factor of the fields. Technological partnerships, such as the one we have with Statoil in the field of Roncador, may be the key for the company to achieve this goal. This basin is linked to the growth of the company and continues to present so much great geological potential that we intend, by 2022, to invest $19 billion in the region.”

“The new exploration areas acquired in the Campos Basin in 2017 and 2018 open up several possibilities for the company. The results of the bidding rounds indicate that there is still great unexplored potential in the ultra-deep waters of the Campos Basin, and Petrobras and its partners will use their geological knowledge and new technologies to discover this new giant, especially in the pre-salt,” she adds.

Pushing the potential of the pre-salt layer

Evidence for the continued strategic importance of the Campos Basin is plentiful. A quick look at the operational highlights Petrobras has recorded in the first half of 2018 speak for itself. For instance, there is the start-up of the first production system in the area of the Transfer of Rights agreement – the P-74 – in the Búzios field, a new floating production system in the Campos Basin, and the FPSO Cidade Campos dos Goytacazes, installed in the field of Tartaruga Verde. Another significant milestone was the arrival of the P-67 in Brazil, which will be the eighth platform to operate in the ultra-deep Lula field.

It is also worth considering that the Santos Basin has great potential. This year also saw the completion of a well in the Sururu field. It has a column of oil of around 1,740ft, which makes it the largest, so far, in the pre-salt layer of Santos Basin.

Beginning in 2017, Petrobras has steadily increased its exploratory area by 31% through acquisitions in the bidding rounds of the National Agency of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (ANP). Its focus was on prioritising the highest potential areas in the Campos and Santos Basins through a strategy that sees it act selectively to rebuild its portfolio, and ensure future and sustainable production. In doing so, the company has had to meet the many challenges of the pre-salt layer head on, drawing on its vast experience, particularly from the past 12 years.

The pre-salt discoveries made in 2006 are still among the most important recent finds anywhere in the world. During the past decade, they have opened up a new horizon in the history of oil production. They are located in ultra-deep waters – around 22,965ft below sea level – and the pre-salt province has an extension of around 500 miles in length.

It is estimated that there are billions of barrels of high-quality light oil waiting to be discovered, the commercial value of which would likely be enormous.

When these discoveries were first made, they brought Petrobras face-toface with conditions unlike anything the company had previously experienced. There was no choice but to embark on an intensive process to improve existing technologies and develop new technical solutions. This has been achieved largely through collaboration between the technical teams of operators and suppliers, as well as through the support of academics and researchers from universities and technology centres.

The success of these efforts is proven by the fact that, currently, more than half of Petrobras’s total production comes from the pre-salt layer. The company’s success in pushing the potential of this exploratory frontier has delivered great dividends. Towards the end of April this year, the company’s pre-salt production passed a benchmark of 1.5m barrels of oil per day. The highlight was the Lula field, located in the pre-salt of the Santos Basin, which is now the largest oil-producing field in Brazil, as well as the largest national producer of natural gas.

The kind of pioneering technology that the company developed to make the pre-salt layer profitable was recognised in 2015, when it received – for the third time – the OTC Distinguished Achievement Award for Companies, Organizations, and Institutions. This is the highest technological recognition that an oil company can receive as an offshore operator, but it has not allowed the company to rest on its laurels. Instead, Petrobras has taken its awardwinning technologies as a starting point from which it can build on the successful partnerships that made it technologically and economically feasible to produce in the pre-salt layer.

The new exploration areas acquired in the Campos Basin in 2017 and 2018 open up several possibilities for the company.

A future rife with innovation

In order to maximise the potential of the Campos and Santos Basins, innovative technological solutions will be required. Already, work in the Libra area of the pre-salt layer of Santos Basin is bringing good results.

Petrobras sees the Libra area as one of the largest and most promising oil and gas production projects ever developed in the offshore industry. The asset already has reservoirs that are among the most productive in the world, with columns of oil that reach approximately 1,312ft in size. The first discovery to be developed in the area of Libra was Mero field, which lies in ultradeep water around 180km off the coast of Rio de Janeiro, and is estimated to hold around 3.3 billion barrels of oil. In the past year, the commerciality of this field was officially declared.

In November 2017, the long-term testing (LTT) of the Mero field began. Its goal was to evaluate the behaviour of the oil reservoir and to gain insight into its characteristics. The test is under way, using the platform vessel FPSO Pioneer of Libra, which has been installed in the north-western portion of the block, and which has the capacity to process around 50,000 barrels of oil and 141 million cubic feet of gas every day.

Successful production requires the development of new solutions that are specifically adapted to the unique conditions of the deposit, and it these solutions that have made LTT possible at the Mero field. Such new technological solutions have focused on high pressure, increased productivity and managing the depth of the oil reservoirs, and there have also been significant strides to manage the strong presence of gas associated with the oil, which is a key issue to overcome in order to boost the development of higher production across the region.

Among the technological advances that have been applied with Libra is the development of Hi-SEP. This focuses on CO2 separation in dense phase and is a technology that enables the production of more oil for longer with the same processing plant. The first unit will be installed in Libra, though the unprecedented technology, patented by Petrobras, is still in the testing phase.

Hi-SEP will help the company to overcome the big challenge of the high gas-oil ratio (GOR), as well as addressing the high concentration of contaminants, especially CO2. The subsea separation proposed by the Hi-SEP technology has the potential to benefit fields such as Libra and any others with high GOR and high concentrations of CO2. Since January, Petrobras has been running a pilot plant in operation in Fortaleza, in the north-east of Brazil, to test the Hi-Sep solution.

The old and the new

Further deepwater exploration and subsea production will, no doubt, depend on the development of new technologies to uncover and exploit new reserves. There is, nevertheless, a pressing need to ensure that existing deepwater assets live up to their potential. For this reason, Petrobras has been focusing on its existing discoveries in the pre-salt layer of Campos Basin.

The Campos Basin is one of the largest maritime oil complexes in the world, and it has been producing oil and gas for more than 40 years. Petrobras already has new systems in the region that are slated to start production, and it has acquired ten exploration blocks in the past two rounds of ANP’s auctions.

In addition, it is focusing on projects that will involve the revitalisation of mature fields and the increase of their recovery factor. In the Campos Basin, the company has many discoveries in the pre-salt province, but in this region, the biggest potential gain could come from the fact that these discoveries occur in fields that have been producing for many years in the post-salt layer, and that already have infrastructure installed. This generates cost savings for the company and speeds up the start of production of these fields.

One example was the discovery in 2010 in the area of Brava, which is below the Marlim concession. The field is already producing with the P-20 platform, and Petrobras is currently implementing the oil and gas volume delimitation phase, which may enhance the revitalisation of Marlim. There are also the pre-salt Jubarte and Baleia Azul fields in the Parque das Baleias, which are producing with the P-58 platform and the FPSO Cidade de Anchieta. The reservoirs of Tracaja, which lies in the Marlim Leste field, Carimbé in the Caratinga field and Poraque Alto in the Marlim Sul field are also key elements in the revitalisation capacity of the Campos Basin, after so many years of operations.

Brazil’s potential in offshore production will come from its willingness to push the boundaries of technology to exploit new discoveries. Its offshore industry already contributes a huge amount to global supply, but there is much more to come.

With a focus on inflating the potential of the Campos and Santos Basins, Petrobras has employed innovative and varied methods to ensure a sustainable future at the locations.
Since 2017, Petrobras has increased its area by 31% through acquisitions from the ANP.

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