Trinidad and Tobago’s vibrant E&P landscapeAugust 9, 2023
A vibrant E&P landscape remains in Trinidad and Tobago. Recent successes from BP and Touchstone have shown both onshore and offshore that there are resources which can be tapped, while the potential of mega production from Venezuelan waters could keep the industry sustained for years to come.
On January 9, 2023, in closing its onshore and nearshore competitive bidding round, the government of Trinidad and Tobago confirmed it had received 16 bids by eight upstream companies to explore eight of the 11 blocks offered in southern Trinidad. The popularity of the blocks suggests that there is still plenty of interest in the country’s hydrocarbon potential despite it being a very mature basin.
Noting that the blocks offered “significant untapped potential,” the Hon. Stuart Young, Trinidadian energy minister, added that the government had updated its taxes and royalties system for the energy sector and had provided companies with extensive data for their analysis.
The 11 blocks will be covered by an exploration and production licence, and all bids will be evaluated by a technical evaluation committee of the Ministry of Energy and an announcement of the outcome of the bids is expected in three months from the date of closing. Licences are expected to be awarded for a period of six years, renewable for 25 years if requested, and subsequent periods of five years may be further awarded.
A bid fee of USD 30,000 or the TTD equivalent was required to allow interested parties to participate in the bid round. Payment would entitle companies to receive a data package which provides information about the 11 blocks on offer, to be used for acreage evaluation and the right to bid on any of the blocks. The data package also included the local content and local participation framework. Primera Oil & Gas, which is owned by Canadian independent Touchstone Exploration, bid for the highest number of blocks with five bids for Cipero, Tulsa, Charuma, St Mary’s and Guayaguayare Onshore.
RELIEF FOR TRINIDAD: The positive response to the bid round will probably come as a relief for the government, which would have risked local and probably international embarrassment had this bid round gone the way of the deepwater competitive bid round. Having opened on December 3, 2021 and closed on June 2, 2022, only four bids were received for the 17 blocks on offer. The four bids were all made by a BP (through local entity bpTT) and a Shell/BG joint consortium. There was no interest from the former BHP (now Woodside) in the blocks despite it having extensive data from seismic surveys in Trinidad’s deepwater landscape.
This could be because so far, mostly gas has been found in Trinidad’s deepwater, which is generally less profitable than oil, as it commands lower prices in international markets. Woodside is also focused on its deepwater Calypso project offshore Tobago in Blocks 23(a) and TTDAA 14, from which first gas is expected in 2027. Woodside has completed three appraisal drilling programmes consisting of the Bongos-3, Bongos-3X and Bongos-4 wells and has found resources in all of them.
Part of any bid’s success is the financial implications for all parties, both the upstream companies and the government, and it is rumoured that the bpTT/Shell partnership has not met the government’s minimum requirements. The bids submitted by the two supermajors include only a conditional commitment to drill new wells and to evaluate seismic data before committing to a drilling plan.
BP STILL CENTRAL: bpTT celebrated first gas from its Cassia-C platform, its largest offshore facility in the country, in November 2022, which will allow the company to tap into low-pressure gas resources from the Greater Cassia Area 57 kilometres off Trinidad’s southeast coast.
“We’re reducing the pressure of the entire system offshore and onshore at the same time, thereby bringing old wells back into production and getting more production out of our lower producing wells,” David Campbell, president of bpTT, told The Energy Year. “There are no new wells for this platform; it’s just a matter of getting more gas out of the system we already have.”
Once at full production, Cassia-C is expected to produce 84,960 cubic metres (3 mcf) per day of gas. The Greater Cassia Area is a vast offshore development owned and operated by bpTT, which includes 16 offshore platforms spread over 2,750 square kilometres, as well as two onshore processing plants.
It also signed a gas supply contract with NGC in September 2022, which renewed an existing contract and will govern the terms and conditions under which bpTT will continue to supply gas to NGC’s domestic customers. The companies noted that the contract will underpin future upstream investments for bpTT, safe in the knowledge that there will be a ready market for any hydrocarbons discovered and ensuring the thriving of Trinidad and Tobago’s petrochemicals industry, which needs natural gas as a feedstock. The contract is vital for the country’s energy security, as bpTT is by far the largest supplier of gas to the domestic market, and the renewal of this contract allows NGC to secure a significant volume of gas for the coming years to help fulfil domestic demand.
A gas supply arrangement is also important for BP, which needs to be sure of demand before sanctioning future projects. In 2019, it discovered gas at its Ginger exploration well in the Columbus Basin in water depths of about 90 metres. In 2021, it confirmed that its Matapal project had successfully achieved first gas ahead of schedule and under budget despite the difficulties brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Matapal ties back to the existing Juniper platform 80 kilometres off the south-east coast of Trinidad, near the Cassia-C development. Full production is expected to be 7.08-9.91 mcm (250-350 mcf) per day.
Campbell noted that the company is planning to invest up to USD 800 million into projects in 2023, including its Cypre project, which received the green light in September 2022. Drilling is expected this year and first gas in 2025. The project will include seven wells and subsea trees and will tie back to the Juniper platform via two new 14-kilometre flexible flowlines, for which bpTT has signed a contract with Subsea Integration Alliance. Not only is this more cost-efficient, but it also minimises bpTT’s emissions, thus reducing its impact on the environment. Drilling is due to commence in 2023, and first gas from the facility is expected in 2025.
The Cypre gasfield is located 78 kilometres off the southeast coast of Trinidad within the East Mayaro block, in a water depth of approximately 80 metres. At its peak, the development is expected to deliver an average gas production of 7.08-8.50 mcm (250-300 mcf) per day. Furthermore, the company will be performing an extensive maintenance programme which will renew some of its infrastructure, including replacing two key pipelines: a 12-inch pipeline that brings all of its liquids resources to the Galeota terminal for processing and a 6-inch pipeline that connects its Beachfield facility to the Galeota terminal.
OTHER INDEPENDENTS: Touchstone Exploration has also had recent successes in the country, having achieved first gas from its Coho well in the Ortoire block onshore Trinidad in October 2022. Touchstone has an 80% stake in Ortoire with local company Heritage Petroleum holding the other 20%. Full production is expected to be 297,360 cubic metres (10.5 mcf) per day, which will be delivered to NGC.
“The Ortoire block sits in the middle of a big turbidite deposit in the Herrera formation, which is our main target,” Touchstone president Paul Baay told The Energy Year. “The bigger prizes in Trinidad are in gas production.”
The company is also ready to supply gas to NGC from its Cascadura gas processing facility, which NGC is expected to be able to receive on or before June 30, 2023. Touchstone will use the funds earned from this, as well as Coho, to complete drilling of its Royston-1X and prepare its next development locations at Cascadura.
Royston-1X achieved its total depth in March 2023, having been drilled 3,449 metres, and Touchstone revealed it found substantial oil-bearing sands in Herrera turbidite formations with a thickness of 507 metres and an estimated 233 metres of sand penetrated. Touchstone utilised Star Valley Drilling rig #205.
The deepest well that Touchstone has ever drilled and deepest onshore well drilled in Trinidad in 15 years, Royston-1X is a sidetrack well re-entering the previously drilled Royston-1. Royston-1 was drilled in 2021 to a depth of 3,261 metres and encountered 300m of sweet, light crude oil.
The company expects to move its drilling rig over to Royston in April 2023 and it will begin a testing programme to ensure it can extract the oil commercially. If so, the field could yield between 6,000 and 10,000 bopd at full production, which may be achieved in 2024.
In August 2023, UK independent Trinity Exploration & Production confirmed a potential commercial oil find at the Jacobin-1 well in the onshore Palo Seco area. The company drilled to a total depth of around 3,050 metres – one of the deepest wells in the area – and hit 88.4 metres of net oil pay, including 19.8 metres in its deeper exploration targets. The find is remarkable for being “virgin oil in a super-mature basin,” as the company described it. The company is planning a full production testing programme that will begin in September 2023.
“To find virgin oil in our mature acreage points to a step-change in our understanding of the hydrocarbon system, the remaining resource potential and how we can approach the exploitation of these resources,” Trinity CEO Jeremy Bridglalsingh said.
TESTED WATERS AHEAD: Global hydrocarbons supply chain difficulties have forced countries to reconsider their sources of energy. In November 2022, Chevron was authorised by the US government to resume oil production from Venezuela for the first time since sanctions were imposed in 2019.
In January 2023, Trinidad and Tobago received a licence from the United States to develop the Dragon gasfield, which sits in Venezuela’s territorial waters, with the possibility of Trinidad providing humanitarian relief in exchange for the oil, since sanctions prohibit Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) from receiving payments in cash. In February 2023, Minister Stuart Young led a delegation to Caracas to begin negotiations on the licence, which would last for two years initially.
“A proposed pipeline would run just 17 kilometres from the Dragon field in Venezuela to existing state-of-the-art downstream infrastructure in Trinidad and Tobago,” Minister Young told The Energy Year. “Access to that gas would allow us to increase the production of LNG and ammonia. There are significant hydrocarbons reserves in Venezuelan territory, mere kilometres away from the existing infrastructure in Trinidad.”
The Dragon field is believed to contain 118.9 bcm (4.2 tcf) of natural gas, and the project will be able to feed an approximated 4.25 mcm (150 mcf) per day to Trinidad and Tobago if at full production. Preliminary offshore work had been completed before the imposition of sanctions, but this would need to be restarted before production could commence. It could be three or four years before gas flows from the field into Trinidad. Nevertheless, negotiations continued at pace and in March 2023, Minister Young revealed that he had signed a non-disclosure agreement with PDVSA governing the commercial and technical aspects of the project.
As the world moves towards cleaner, greener energy in the years and decades ahead, natural gas is certain to be the stepping stone by which it gets there. In this respect, there can’t be many countries better placed than Trinidad and Tobago, whose Atlantic LNG complex could almost double production with enough feedstock, producing 30 million tonnes of LNG per year. Trinidad has been playing the game for longer than most, producing oil for 100 years, but there is hope of a windfall still to come.