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Angola plans to capitalise on one of the world’s most promising recent oil discoveries by auctioning more exploration rights next year as it aims to double production by the end of the decade.
The planned bid round follows February’s deepwater find by Cobalt International Energy, which the Goldman Sachs-backed group estimates holds some 1.5bn barrels of crude.
Manuel Vicente, minister of state for economic co-ordination, told the Financial Times the bid round would offer exploration rights in the onshore part of the same basin where Houston-based Cobalt made its find.
“I would not advance figures but the only thing I would say is it’s very, very lucrative – more than we expected,” Mr Vicente said of the new territory to be offered.
“The big [international oil companies], they’ll be interested,” he said in an interview in Luanda, Angola’s capital.
Jacques Marraud des Grottes, senior vice-president for exploration and production in Africa at Total, told the FT: “There will be interest from the industry.”
The development of the “pre-salt” oil play would spur efforts to raise output from Africa’s second biggest oil industry to 3.5m barrels a day from 1.8m b/d by 2020, Mr Vicente added.
Late last year some of the world’s biggest oil groups – including BP, Statoil, Total, Repsol, Eni and ConocoPhillips – finalised rights to 11 offshore blocks close to Cobalt’s discovery following an earlier bid round.
Both those offshore blocks and next year’s onshore ones lie in the Kwanza basin, which resembles Brazil’s Santos basin across the Atlantic, home to the Tupi and Libra fields, two of the biggest oil finds in decades.
Sonangol, the state-owned oil group that Mr Vicente ran for 12 years until January, has conducted only preliminary assessments of the onshore areas and it is decades since wells were last drilled there.
But Cobalt’s offshore find and another by Maersk Oil have led analysts to quadruple their estimates of the onshore areas’ potential.
Some industry insiders cautioned that the onshore areas might not necessarily prove as prospective as the deepwater sites and that it would be premature to declare Angola a second Brazil.
David Thomson, an analyst at Wood Mackenzie, an industry consultancy, said: “The pre-salt’s potential is undeniable but it’s too early to be drawing too many conclusions.”
Decades of onshore oil production in the northern enclave of Cabinda and from deepwater fields to the north of the pre-salt region have already made Angola a rival as Africa’s top producer to Nigeria, which pumps 2.1m b/d.
Nigeria, a member of the Opec oil cartel, vies with Saudi Arabia to be China’s biggest oil supplier and is an important source of crude for the US.