In times of geopolitical uncertainty, growing energy demand and increased pressure to reduce carbon footprints, oil and gas companies seek opportunities to diversify their portfolio and secure stable investments.
One country to consider is Tunisia, a North African nation, separated from Europe by the Mediterranean Sea. Home to green mountainous forests, fertile plains, the Sahara Desert and 1,250 kilometers of coastline, Tunisia provides a rich geographical and geological landscape for explorers.
Habib Troudi, senior subsurface adviser at the Tunisian National Oil Company, Entreprise Tunisienne d’Activités Pétrolières (ETAP), said Tunisia’s culture is as varied as its geography.
“Tunisia’s rich history and culture has been shaped by various influential figures and many civilizations who have played key roles in the country’s development,” he said. “Its location at the crossroads of Africa, Europe and the Middle East has contributed to its unique identity and its reputation as one of the most liberal and progressive countries in the Arab world.”
Troudi joined ETAP in 1993 and his current role includes onshore and offshore exploration projects and business development. He participates regularly in AAPG events and often represents ETAP in AAPG’s International Pavilion, a showcase for investment opportunities in hydrocarbons and renewable energies.
“The International Pavilion at ICE represents an excellent opportunity for ETAP to talk with IOC decisionmakers about exploration and development opportunities in Tunisia’s mature and frontier basins,” he said. “It is also a great occasion to meet with other NOC representatives to share knowledge and experience.”
International events give Troudi the opportunity to tell others about the Tunisian people, a highly educated population of 12 million, predominately Muslim with a minority of non-Arabic indigenous Berbers.
“Tunisia is well known for the quality of the education system. The top foreign languages spoken in Tunisia are English, French and Italian,” he said.
The country’s primary economic drivers include agriculture and the service sector, particularly tourism, as well as mechanical and electrical industries.
“Tunisia is considered as a pool of talent in the Mediterranean area and more than 200,000 Tunisian scientists and engineers currently work in foreign countries,” he said.
Tunisia also has an active energy sector, with exploratory activity starting in the 1960s.
Troudi highlighted several oil and gas finds, including the 1964 discovery of the giant El Borma onshore oil field in southern Tunisia’s Ghadames Basin. The field boasts one billion barrels of cumulative production.
Major discoveries from the early 1970s in the offshore Pelagian basin include the Miskar gas field, with a proven reserve of 1.5 trillion cubic feet of gas and the Ashtart field, with a cumulative production of 700 million barrels of oil. The most important field discovered so far in the Onshore Pelagian basin is the Sidi El Kilani field, which as a cumulative production of 60 million barrels of oil and current daily production of approximately 1,000 barrels of oil per day.
Tunisia’s latest development milestone is the Nawara gas project located in Ghadames basin in southern Tunisia. The gas field, producing from the Lower Silurian Acacus multi-deltaic sand layers at the average rate of two to three million cubic meters, came online in 2020 after the construction of a buried gas pipeline that is 371 kilometres long and 24-inches wide, with a daily capacity of 10 million cubic meters per day.
Eni and ETAP’s recent discovery of Sabah oil and gas field, from the same Silurian Acacus reservoir, will come online by the first quarter of 2025. The estimated gross resources for the Sabah field are 100 million barrels of oil equivalent (all prospects).
Troudi said developing tight gas reserves in the Ghadames basin is the most significant opportunity and challenge for Tunisia in the near future.
“In this intracratonic sag basin, the tight Ordovician sand and the Early Silurian world class source rock holds up to 23 trillion cubic feet of Pmean recoverable resources of gas without any traces of sour gas,” he said.
He added that tight gas and unconventional targets for Palaeozoic and Cretaceous world-class source rocks most likely are present in many petroleum provinces throughout the country.
Hydrocarbon Potential, Underexplored Areas
Troudi noted that the primary hydrocarbon occurrences in southern Tunisia are in the Triassic and Palaeozoic clastic reservoirs sourced by Silurian shales. In central onshore and offshore Tunisia, the proven plays are the Cretaceous and Eocene plays.
“Reserves need to be bolstered by new finds from mature basins and a focus on under-explored and frontier basins characterized by a wide variety of economic active petroleum systems proved in the neighbouring Italy Adriatic province,” he said.
“The recent discovery of oil in deep carbonate targets and subsalt plays in the onshore and offshore Tunisian Pelagian Basin, the western extension of Libya Sirte Basin, clearly supports the remaining exploration upside – approximately 430 million barrels of oil equivalent (according to a 2022 ETAP and World Bank study) of yet to find resources – that can be unlocked.”
Troudi said Tunisia provides tremendous opportunities for companies interested in discovering underexplored areas.
“Some of the onshore and offshore areas of Tunisia are regions which have seen very little exploration or none at all,” he said, noting that underexplored areas extend into neighbouring parts of northeastern Algeria, Tunisia’s neighbor to the west.
“Historically, the search for hydrocarbons has been particularly focused around major discoveries in hope that more could be found in the same types of play. Satellite accumulations have been found, but the search for those resources has meant that large sectors of the country have been disregarded. This is especially the case with regard to the northern Tunisia thrust belt basin and southern margins of the Chotts Basin and the northern edge of the Pelasgian Basin,” he said.
“These underexplored areas with attractive open blocks are subjected to multiple tectonic events and halokinesis activities that offer valid petroleum systems and traps with up to 30 million barrels of oil equivalent of mean resources for a type lead,” he added.
Eyeing the Energy Transition
Troudi noted that opportunities in Tunisia are not limited to hydrocarbons. The country also has a potential for renewables, including solar energy and hydrogen.
“To ensure a continuous energy supply the Tunisian authorities established a clear strategy for energy transition and considered the renewables as a central pillar of decarbonizing the energy mix to reduce primary energy demand by 30 percent by 2030,” he said.
“Tunisia holds huge solar capacity and recently two brown energy projects in southern Tunisia have been achieved and entered already into production. Regarding green hydrogen, the Tunisian state started a pilot project and is encouraging via ETAP our foreign partners to help establish a short to midterm strategy for this ambitious project,” Troudi said.
Cooperative Energy Policy
Troudi said the Tunisian government strategies promoting investment will benefit the country as well as future partners.
“Tunisia is also interested in attracting further foreign investment to develop many available small size fields, currently located in areas with extensive surface and processing facilities, that previously were considered uneconomic,” he said.
“Tunisia stands at a crossroads of Europe, the Middle East and Africa position in terms of energy policy. To replace the oil reserves and to maintain sustainable energy supply, Tunisia authorities offers strategic energy policy cooperation for companies that desire to invest in fossil and renewable energies,” he said.
Troudi said both the investment climate and the people of Tunisia are welcoming.
“People are tolerant of other religions and open to new cultures, and women occupy an important place in Tunisian society and in the professional world,” he said.
“Tunisia represents a land of abundant opportunities for those willing to put in the effort and invest in the necessary technical work. Success in Tunisia’s energy sector requires a holistic approach that encompasses good geological studies and targeted seismic work,” he said.
He noted that, while regulatory compliance, international collaboration, a long-term vision and a commitment to community engagement will be key factors to long-term success, the country’s geology and investment climate provide a good place to start.
“Tunisia is well known by the presence of accessible nice and pedagogic surface outcrops. We are very keen to develop joint projects and organize fieldtrips for international explorers,” he said.
“As the world’s energy needs continue to grow, Tunisia’s potential remains an attractive prospect for those with the vision and determination to unlock it.”
For open acreage and investment opportunities visit the ETAP website, etap.com.tn.