In the 1960s and ‘70s, many oil
companies collectively drilled 50 wells in
the Chortis plate, an arrow-shaped, large
segment of continental crust projecting
into the Western Caribbean from onshore
Honduras and Nicaragua, 1,000 kilometers
east toward Jamaica.
Three-quarters of the wells drilled
recorded either source rocks or
hydrocarbon shows, and four wells tested
live hydrocarbon columns, including Union
Oil’s Main Cape discovery, drilled in 1973.
Civil unrest and a deteriorating
investment climate in Central America
halted offshore exploration in the early
1980s and the area remained largely
unnoticed while companies focused on
Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia.
Taking a New Look
Decades later, the Chortis plate caught
the attention of Chris Matchette-Downes,
a petroleum geochemist and entrepreneur
with a history of finding commercial
exploration opportunities in Europe, East
Africa and, more recently, the Caribbean.
After founding and then selling
a company focused on East Africa,
Matchette-Downes met an official from
the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica
and soon started working in Jamaica and
surrounding areas. He found this new area
both refreshing and exciting.
“The high entry price required in Africa
at the time and fierce competition to secure
acreage opportunities encouraged me
to look elsewhere,” he said. “It was clear
that the Western Caribbean had all the
geological ingredients for prolific petroleum
systems and there was no one else there at
“The Western Caribbean is bigger than it
seems, and I am convinced it could hold the
next oil major province, south of Mexico and
north of Venezuela.”
Focus on the Source Rock
Chris Matchette-Downes founded CaribX
in 2009 with the mission to “Follow the
oil seeps and source rocks.” He worked in
Jamaica, Haiti and the Dominican Republic
before learning about the opportunities in
“A geochemist friend gave me a business
card from a conference, and just said,
‘You will need this.’ I rang the number and
got through to the Honduras government
agency tasked with managing Honduras’
minerals, mines and hydrocarbons,” he said.
“I had just launched CaribX with
the intention of securing assets in the
Caribbean, in shallow water and in stable
countries with evidence of oil. The Union Oil
Main Cape oil discovery offshore Honduras
passed the screening test,” he continued.
Matchette-Downes flew to Honduras
and met with government representatives
to discuss proposals, then made follow-up
trips to collect data and oil samples from
the 1973 discovery.
“To my mind, a robust source is key;
everything else follows. Oil to the surface is
of course a good sign, and I was able to get
samples of the Main Cape tested oil early
on,” he said.
Need for Partnerships
Matchette-Downes said members of the
government were very interested to hear
about the work he’d done and the potential
he saw for reviving exploration activity in
Honduras. At the time, CaribX was just
“It’s a typical problem – countries prefer
to work with the majors,” he said. “The
majors in turn like to see prior groundwork
in place, particularly in frontier areas.
The way forward was to bring in the right
partner early on, and this happened with the
British Gas Group. Then after BG’s merger
with Shell and their subsequent withdrawal
from Honduras as part of Shell’s strategic
portfolio reorganization, this allowed CaribX
to grow into the leading Western Caribbean
oil exploration company we are today.”
Today CaribX is a 55-percent holder of
the Main Cape license along with UK-based
operator High Power Petroleum.
Throughout operator changes, the
COVID crisis and the subsequent economic
downturn, Matchette-Downes has remained
committed to the pursuit of technical and
commercial success offshore Honduras.
“We have not drilled yet, but we have
established that the 1973 oil discovery in
the shallow water was of material scale.
We have also identified billion-barrel class
prospects in the deepwater Cayman Trough
borderland basins, and we have determined
that there is both an Upper Cretaceous and
Eocene source rock and charge systems
active,” he said.
In the past 10 years, CaribX has
conducted an extensive review of the
hydrocarbon potential of the 17,180-square
kilometer Main Cape license area. The work
was enhanced by bringing in experts like
Mark Shann, former subsurface director of
Sierra Oil and Gas and participant in the 670
mmb recoverable Zama oil discovery in the
Southern Mexico’s Sureste basin in 2017.
Shann joined CaribX as a technical
adviser and investor in 2019.
“I always wanted to investigate what was
present on the adjacent Chortis plate and
the giant field scale of the Akna prospect
in the Patuca basin was very appealing,”
Shann said. “Like Zama, there is top-down
evidence of a working petroleum system
and the carbonate reservoir geometry
is analogous to the karstified Mesozoic
carbonate fields I have seen in Mexico.”
Exploring the Potential
Mark Shann has spent the last two
years increasing his understanding of this
Western Caribbean area included in CaribX’s
Main Cape license.
“Chortis has had an intriguing plate
history,” Shann said. “In the Mesozoic, it was
located farther west adjacent to Mexico’s
Maya plate in the Yucatan, and as such
was affected in the Late Cretaceous by
Laramide ‘Sierra Madre thrust and fold
belt’ folding. It then moved east into the
Caribbean during the Cenozoic on a strike-slip plate boundary, hence the dominant
structural fabric affecting Chortis is one of
Shann noted that the Main Cape license
includes two primary play types.
“The northern section comprises the
southern borderlands to the Cayman
Trough transform margin, which are a
series of strike-slip basins with a clear
Miocene structural carbonate play. To the
south, the block covers the northern part
of the Eocene Mosquitia rift basin, which
has proven prolific Eocene rift basin source
rocks and their time-equivalent associated
carbonate shoal reservoirs,” he explained.
Shann works alongside Senior
Geoscientist Joel Corcoran integrating
reservoir/seal integration of the Main Cape
1 log data to seismic structural and facies
mapping, they identified a fault-bounded
40-square kilometer structural high called
“La Loma” located east of the original Main
Cape 1 well drilled in the Mosquitia Basin.
La Loma is an area of stacked Eocene
nummulite-shoal reservoir potential,
where up to five additional carbonate
reservoir/seal pairs may be present, updip
of proven oil at Main Cape 1.
“The La Loma subsurface work has
really come together over the last year
founded on revisiting old legacy data with a
forensic approach, applying new ideas and
taking advantage of modern software to
integrate all the data we can,” Corcoran said.
The CaribX team is leveraging new
technology to prepare for their appraisal of
Main Cape. In addition to seismic mapping,
biostratigraphic analysis, basin modeling
and drill stem test analysis, they are using virtual
reality to integrate global outcrop analogues
to Main Cape 1 well logs and seismic at the
Plans for 2021-22 include options for an
appraisal well in the Main Cape La Loma
structure and a deepwater play test of the
Akna prospect in the Patuca Basin, part of
the Cayman Trough borderland basins in
Getting Down to Business
In addition to significantly expanding
CaribX’s technical profile with world-class
experts, Matchette-Downes brought in team
members to strengthen the company’s
financial and strategic position.
Rory Scott Russell, a Shell veteran
with Caribbean experience, assumed his
role as CEO in 2018. During his tenure,
he has organized funding and developed
a consortium of institutional and private
investors to fund the company’s work
program obligations, business development
and regional growth plans.
Under his leadership, the CaribX
management team also gained two new
members. Ivan Sandrea, former CEO and
founder of Sierra Oil and Gas (acquired by
Wintershall DEA in 2019) joined the advisory
panel, as did former senior BP executive
and PEMEX board member Octavio
A Small Team with Big Results
“We may be, relatively speaking, a small company, but
we punch above our weight, particularly in our technical
capabilities across all disciplines. We also know that
patience, a forensic attention to detail and data, and of
course an appetite for hard work is essential for success
in all this new frontier work we do. For example, hunting
down and acquiring all the 1970’s data available from
governments, public and private sources takes years to
achieve,” said Scott Russell. “All the patience, investment
and hard work is now paying off.”
Scott Russell noted that the project to appraise the Main
Cape-1 discovery would involve drilling the first offshore
well in Honduras in more than 40 years.
“Main Cape-2 will appraise an existing discovery of over
100 million barrels (mean oil recoverable), with the potential
for a large exploration upside,” he said.
He noted that evaluating the discovery and moving the
field to commerciality, safely and in full and transparent
consultation with all local stakeholders, will be significant
for Honduras and for the neighboring countries that lack
indigenous hydrocarbon sources.
“We believe strongly that a lack of access to cheap
energy is a fundamental barrier to economic development
in the region,” he said.
Benefits for Honduras
Scott Russell said that discoveries in Honduras will
provide significant social, economic and environmental
benefits to Honduras and its people.
A 2020 study from the UNAM Renewable Energy
Institute states that more than 70 percent of Hondurans live
in energy poverty, without reliable access to basic energy
services, like clean cooking facilities. According to the U.S.
Energy Information Administration, half of the country’s
total energy needs are met by burning biomass, mostly
firewood, contributing to deforestation and habitat loss.
Scott Russell also noted that Honduras imports 90
percent of its total non-biomass energy supply. He cited an
International Trade Centre report noting that in 2018 alone,
the country imported more than 25 million barrels of oil and
refined oil products, costing the economy $1.6 billion, or 17
percent of the country’s total imports.
“As a result of government-subsidized fuel prices, the
state directly funds the difference between the cost of
import and the retail price of fuel, making the Honduran
economy particularly vulnerable to oil price volatility,” he said.
“However, the country could hold, in the waters off its
Caribbean coast, a highly material energy supply in the
form of untapped oil and gas resources. The potential
discovery and development of these resources, depending
on project outcomes and drilling success, could produce
direct government revenues of anything between US$350
million and $3.5 billion per year by the end of the decade,”
said Scott Russell.
He noted that developing an indigenous resource will help
Honduras offset the burden of oil importation and vulnerability
to oil shocks, provide energy security and help to alleviate
energy poverty and reliance on biomass and firewood.
“An oil and gas export business would diversify the
economy and provide an opportunity to develop a skilled
workforce in the high-technology science and engineering
sectors,” he said, noting that the CaribX team is committed
helping the country develop its potential.
“The whole team takes this undertaking very seriously,
including our commitments to all local stakeholders. We are
honored to be part of such a historic project in Honduras,
and we are impressed by the state’s professional and
transparent approach as we continue to make the project a
success,” he said.
Matchette-Downes echoed these sentiments and said
he is grateful to all those who helped the company reach
its current position: “I would like to thank to thank the cofounders
of CaribX, all the consultants that helped found
and build CaribX and the new CaribX members that have
continued to manage and refine the offshore Honduras