Located in the Orange Basin, along the passive west coast of the continental margin that straddles the borders of South Africa, there has been a discovery of an oil province in Namibia – the offshore Graf and Venus fields – that likely contains billions of barrels of oil resources.
That’s according to Robin Sutherland, an exploration manager for Monitor Exploration, a UK-based private exploration company involved in oil and gas exploration in Africa.
Of equal importance, he said, is the recent drilling by ReconAfrica, which “clearly proves” that the Ovambo Basin, a large pre-Cambrian basin in the far north of Namibia, is oil bearing with very significant potential.
“Both of these events represent major changes to our understanding of the potential of Namibia,” said Sutherland.
Namibia’s Changing Fortunes
Part of the reason for the excitement is that there has so far been almost no commercial production in Namibia.
“Previous exploration efforts had demonstrated that Namibia could hold significant resources, but the only potentially commercial discovery, Kudu, was of limited proven volume making development risky,” said Sutherland.
That performance made it difficult to commit to an expensive development plan.
Paul Howlett, of Global Petroleum Limited, a company based in Namibia, said there were other reasons the promise of Kudu failed to materialize.
“Namibia has a small population and so no gas market has ever been developed yet to take gas from Kudu,” he said.
In addition, there wasn’t much demand from South Africa for that gas.
That dynamic seems to be changing, as Kudu and other gas pools feeding into a regional gas-to-power scheme may have come of age.
“It’s likely that there will also be significant volumes of gas at Graff (founded by Shell), and Venus (Total Energy), so the threshold for a LNG project may also be reached,” said Howlett.
Some, in fact, are predicting Venus could prove to be Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest ever oil discovery.
Sutherland, too, said those results, including onshore Ovambo, means the commercial potential of the region is almost assured by the thick oil and gas bearing reservoirs offshore.
This has been a long time coming from a country that hasn’t been one for that long. For more than a century, starting in the 1800s and continuing on until 1970, the country was controlled, first by Germany and then by South Africa.
“From the 1970s onwards, there was an independence war that only ended in 1990,” Howlett noted.
The first deepwater wells were drilled soon after nationhood was established.
A decade and a half later, deeper-water wells proved the regional extent of the Barremian-Aptian source rock and likely commercial volumes of hydrocarbons.
“The latest well results at Venus, Graff and onshore Ovambo have changed the landscape completely,” said Sutherland.
How much so?
At a recent AAPG workshop in Cape Town, which focused on the remaining hydrocarbon potential offshore southern Africa, the potential was enormous.
“Our evaluation shows that the onshore Ovambo basin could hold several billion barrels of oil and the Nama Basin, which is also onshore, several hundred million more,” he said.
Sutherland added that he doesn’t think onshore output will equal or surpass the enormous resource numbers expected offshore.
Offshore accumulations, said Howlett, are commercially viable, albeit in challenging water depths.
“The exploration of the onshore hasn’t yet found traps of commercially viable hydrocarbons, although the auguries are promising,” he said.
GTW in Namibia
These developments, as well as a host of other topics relating to exploration in the country, will be discussed at a workshop in Namibia’s capital of Windhoek, June 7-9, entitled, “Hydrocarbon Potential in Namibia.”
During the conference, sessions on tectono-sedimentary evolution and structural history, source rocks, seals and traps, petroleum systems, reservoirs, and prospectivity of syn-rift plays of the country will be offered. There is also a field trip through the Nama and Karoo regions in southern Namibia, as well as a rifted margins interactive seismic workshop.
There is of late a buzz about the country and its potential, for Namibia has a rich and varied prospective geology ranging from the Proterozoic to recent-in-age in basins that vary from intracratonic, to fold belt, to passive margin in character. All the geological elements are present for a number of potential hydrocarbon provinces to be established. And even though, as mentioned, no commercial production has been established to date, the presence of a large number of companies exploring Namibia is testament to its exciting potential.
“The country is stable and people of different ethnicities and backgrounds live and work very well together, so that contributes greatly to making Namibia really a very easy place to do business,” said Howlett. “This conference aims to leverage the lessons of exploration in Namibia since the 1970s to the efficient discovery and development of these resources.”