Science, Alliance Yields Agbami

A Primer for Global Success

First, create a new strategy. Then embrace new technology, and don't be afraid of new relationships.

Finally, get ready to reap the rewards of new discoveries.

It sounds simple, but that's the basic story behind Texaco's success in the deep waters of Nigeria at the Agbami prospect, one of the world's 10 largest discoveries of the past decade.

Texaco's story provides an example of creative perseverance as well as a primer for those who would enter the global arena in the 21st century.

It started a little over five years ago — and not with a bang. Texaco's initial drilling on its deepwater Nigeria leasehold was mixed, but the wells did find oil. The firm's geoscientists found that the reservoir in the area was similar to the Gulf of Mexico deepwater sands, but without the complications of salt.

Texaco drilled its first operated well at the Agbami prospect in 1999. The company brought Petrobras in as a 20 percent partner on Agbami to take advantage of that firm's knowledge of deepwater systems and to establish a good working relationship in anticipation of future activity in Brazil, according to Bruce Appelbaum, former president of exploration and new ventures for Texaco and current head of mosaic resources.

Agbami was the first prospect Texaco identified after applying new technology to the process of finding exploration targets — with impressive results.

"We established a 3-D visualization center for the exploration group, and this technology facilitated the process of targeting the best prospects," Appelbaum said. "We had a great deal of 3-D seismic data in the region, and with visualization technology we were able to look at large amounts of data quickly and focus on the most prospective areas."

While the science was critical to Texaco's deepwater Nigeria play, it was only about 50 percent of the equation.

Image Caption

The Agbami success story involved the Deepwater Discovery drillship.
Photo courtesy of ChevronTexaco

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First, create a new strategy. Then embrace new technology, and don't be afraid of new relationships.

Finally, get ready to reap the rewards of new discoveries.

It sounds simple, but that's the basic story behind Texaco's success in the deep waters of Nigeria at the Agbami prospect, one of the world's 10 largest discoveries of the past decade.

Texaco's story provides an example of creative perseverance as well as a primer for those who would enter the global arena in the 21st century.

It started a little over five years ago — and not with a bang. Texaco's initial drilling on its deepwater Nigeria leasehold was mixed, but the wells did find oil. The firm's geoscientists found that the reservoir in the area was similar to the Gulf of Mexico deepwater sands, but without the complications of salt.

Texaco drilled its first operated well at the Agbami prospect in 1999. The company brought Petrobras in as a 20 percent partner on Agbami to take advantage of that firm's knowledge of deepwater systems and to establish a good working relationship in anticipation of future activity in Brazil, according to Bruce Appelbaum, former president of exploration and new ventures for Texaco and current head of mosaic resources.

Agbami was the first prospect Texaco identified after applying new technology to the process of finding exploration targets — with impressive results.

"We established a 3-D visualization center for the exploration group, and this technology facilitated the process of targeting the best prospects," Appelbaum said. "We had a great deal of 3-D seismic data in the region, and with visualization technology we were able to look at large amounts of data quickly and focus on the most prospective areas."

While the science was critical to Texaco's deepwater Nigeria play, it was only about 50 percent of the equation.

"I tell our people that rocks and relationships each make up half of a successful exploration prospect," Appelbaum continued. "You absolutely must develop a strong working relationship with your indigenous partner, and we had a long, healthy history with the Nigerians."

Actually, Texaco has had a long-standing relationship with Nigeria — through subsidiaries including Texaco Nigeria (TNPlc) and Texaco Overseas (Nigeria) Petroleum Co. Unlimited (TOPCON) — that dates to 1913, when Texaco began marketing its products there. TOPCON began producing oil in the 1970s, and today produces nearly 70,000 barrels of crude oil per day from six shallow water offshore production facilities off the Bayeisa State.

TOPCON operated its fields through a joint venture with the Nigeria National Petroleum Co. (NNPC). TOPCON held a 20 percent interest in its fields. Prior to the Texaco-Chevron merger, Chevron held a 20 percent stake and NNPC had 60 percent.

Currently TNPlc owns and operates 200 service stations and supplies motor fuels to more than 100 third party-owned operating outlets. The firm has a significant oil storage capability in Nigeria, including a 103,000-barrel storage terminal in Apapa, near Lagos. Texaco also owns several manufacturing facilities in the country.

Getting Started

Texaco began its deepwater program in Nigeria in 1995, when it entered into three joint ventures with Statoil/BP, Mobil and Famfa, an indigenous Nigerian oil company. In January 1999 Texaco and Famfa announced the Agbami discovery on block 216, 70 miles off the coast in the Central Niger Delta. The wildcat is in 4,700 feet of water, which made it the deepest water depth well in Nigeria at that time.

The Agbami discovery well encountered 420 net feet of pay in multiple oil zones, from 8,200 feet to the total depth of 12,400 feet. The well penetrated stacked reservoir sands saturated with oil, ranging in overall column thickness from 400 to more than 1,000 feet. Preliminary data at the time of the discovery indicated the reservoirs contained several hundred million barrels of recoverable oil.

"We have made excellent progress in focusing and positioning our exploration program in areas that can yield high results," said John J. O'Connor, then-president of Texaco Worldwide Exploration and Production, at the time of the discovery. "This discovery is a direct result of those efforts."

When Texaco and Famfa were granted exploration rights to the 617,000-acre block 216 in late 1996, acquisition, processing and interpretation of the 3-D seismic data using Texaco's 3-D visualization technology reduced the well's cycle time about 18 months — extremely fast in deepwater plays.

One year later in January 2000 Texaco announced the first Agbami appraisal well, which confirmed that the structure had potential recoverable reserves in excess of one billion barrels of oil equivalent. The test well surpassed expectations and, together with other technical data, suggested that the Agbami discovery likely ranks among the largest single finds to date in deepwater West Africa.

The structure spans an area of 45,000 acres and extends from block 216 into block 217. Texaco's share of the production from this field is expected to exceed 50 percent.

Agbami 2 was drilled in 4,800 feet of water to a total depth of 15,683 feet and encountered 534 feet of pay in five separate oil-bearing zones, one of which flowed at a maximum rate of 10,000 barrels of oil per day. Surface equipment limitations prevented a higher flow rate.

"The successful conclusion of the well test sets the stage for development of a world-class project that will add substantially to the company's resource base," O'Connor said at the time, "and will significantly increase Texaco's future production."

Before development plans could be considered, however, an additional four-well appraisal program was completed in August 2001, which confirmed earlier reserve figures and provided Texaco with additional valuable information, allowing the project team to remain on track for first oil in mid-2005.

The drilling program defined the productive limits of the field and established reservoir continuity. The results will help form the basis of a development plan incorporating conceptual facilities design, reserves, production rates and well count, while experience gained drilling the appraisal wells will optimize well design for development drilling.

The Value of Exploration

With peak production estimated at 200,000 barrels of oil a day by 2007 and capital investments projected at $3.5 to $4 billion, Agbami is clearly a world class and high impact project.

ChevronTexaco and partners will develop the Agbami Field using subsea wells tied back to a floating production storage and offloading vessel, and a dry tree unit with drilling capabilities located in about 4,400 feet of water. Production will flow from the dry tree unit to the FPSO for processing. The firm expects a total of 37 wells will be necessary to fully exploit the field.

Appelbaum said the most critical element in the Agbami Field is the continuity of the reservoir.

"If you have to drill many extremely expensive delineation wells, the commerciality of the field is impacted adversely," he said.

The first wells drilled at Agbami cost from $60 to $90 million — but, those costs are coming down considerably as ChevronTexaco and its partners' geoscientists learn more about the pressure regimes in the reservoirs and the best drilling practices.

"Development wells will likely cost about one-third of those first wells," he said.

Just how big is Agbami? It is one of the 10 biggest discoveries of the 1990s, and Appelbaum said he witnessed a phenomenon at the field he had only previously heard about.

"During the deep production tests we could actually see the pressure results of tidal effects on the oil flow," he said. "That was a first for me, although I understand this effect has been seen in some of the largest Middle Eastern fields.

"That was certainly an indication we had a sizable discovery," he laughed.

Appelbaum knows the reorganization that brought all Texaco's exploration professionals under the same umbrella was a major factor in the Agbami discovery.

"Because the team was centralized they were able to feed off each other," he said. "All the various disciplines could talk and learn from each other — we weren't reinventing the wheel in every area of the process. When people can communicate and interface with each other it creates a more productive environment and fosters a learning/collaborative situation for exploration teams.

"As super majors grow, it becomes more difficult to replace the monumental amount of reserves they produce yearly," he continued. "The whole reason for the large acquisitions we've witnessed in the last several years is the difficulty of finding new reserves.

"But, at the end of the day, we do still have to find new reserves — and people who can find oil and gas are going to become more and more valuable to companies."

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