On Dec. 2, 2014, Colombia’s national oil company Ecopetrol and partners Petrobras, Repsol and Statoil informed stock markets in Rio de Janeiro, New York, Toronto and Bogotá of a hydrocarbon discovery in the exploratory well Orca-1, located 40 kilometers north of the coast of La Guajira, in the Colombian Caribbean.
The announcement marked an important milestone in the Colombian Caribbean offshore exploration, which Ecopetrol has developed over the past decade in cooperation with international companies whose expertise has provided great support in undertaking offshore exploratory challenges.
Between June and September 2014, Orca-1 reached the expected depth of nearly 14,000 feet, with a water depth of more than 2,200 feet. Flow tests performed in the fourth quarter confirmed the presence of gas accumulation at a depth of approximately 12,000 feet.
The well, operated by Petrobras and drilled by the drillship Ocean Clipper, fulfilled the commitments set forth for Phase IV of Tayrona Block.
Ecopetrol’s Orca-1 project lead is Caribbean offshore manager Victor Ramirez, current president of the AAPG Latin America Region. For Ramirez, the well’s initial success provides an impetus for future exploratory campaigns.
“Ecopetrol and its partners are already preparing to quantify the discovery and verify the extent of the Orca play during 2016 and 2017,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez also noted that, in addition to opening a new chapter in the country’s offshore exploration, Orca-1 illustrates a common Colombian colloquialism: “la constancia vence,” or “perseverance triumphs.”
Technical teams first identified signs of prospectivity in the northeast Colombian Caribbean in 1999, and they spent subsequent years working diligently to acquire information about the basin’s petroleum system.
After a decade of persistence, Ecopetrol’s exploration efforts were intensified through key involvements by Petrobras, with its recognized expertise in deepwater exploration, and Repsol, which joined the venture following its Perla discovery in the Venezuelan Caribbean in 2009.
In late 2014, Norway’s Statoil joined the venture as a partner sharing exploratory risk.
Ramirez said the common denominator in Colombian Caribbean exploration, both for its longtime involvement and its geographical presence, is Ecopetrol. The company currently holds partnerships in 13 Colombian Caribbean offshore blocks.
“While Orca-1 presents exciting new developments for offshore exploration, it is not the first case of success in the Guajira Offshore Basin,” he said.
Just 120 miles due southwest of Orca is the Chuchupa-Ballenas gas complex, which produces about 700 million cubic feet of gas per day. Of this production, about 100 MMPCGD is sold to Venezuela.
The Chuchupa-Ballenas fields are home to shallow water gas accumulations discovered by Texaco in the 1970s. Now operated by Chevron (43 percent) in partnership with Ecopetrol (57 percent), the fields produce gas from Lower Miocene rocks, sandstones and calcareous sandstones younger than the Orca reservoirs.
According to Ramirez, fields currently in production and the new Orca discovery attest to the petroleum system’s validity in various parts of the Guajira Basin.
“Chuchupa-Ballenas is a shoreline to shallow water accumulation, while the accumulation of gas in Orca-1 is a deepwater discovery,” he said. “If Chuchupa opened Colombia’s offshore frontier, Orca inaugurated the country’s deepwater exploration era.”
And the story does not end here.
The Colombian national oil company, along with its partners, is accelerating its drilling campaign in Sinú offshore and other Caribbean frontier basins.
Southwest, toward the Panama border, Ecopetrol is working hand-in-hand with Anadarko, a partner widely recognized for its successful operating record in deep water environments.
The Anadarko-Ecopetrol consortium started 2015 drilling two wells in the promising Southern Caribbean frontier province.
Ramirez noted that, despite the industry downturn, Ecopetrol is determined to take advantage of the momentum stemming from offshore Colombian activity and initial successful results.
Plans for 2016-17 include continued tests of proposed concepts, drilling between four to six wells with partner operators and drilling its well in Colombian waters as a direct operator.
“Ecopetrol expects additional good news,” he said, “and with this hope, continues strengthening its presence in the Colombian Caribbean.”