By Neil Ritchie
Preliminary offshore Taranaki activities and announcements point to perhaps the most intense period of oil and gas exploration and development in a decade, while a number of onshore plans confirm the continued importance of the region’s smaller but still significant fields.
Global energy services giant Schlumberger Seaco has started its comprehensive three dimensional seismic survey off Taranaki utilising the Western Monarch seismic vessel, while the specialist dive support vessel Skandi Singapore has returned to help with a variety of scheduled subsurface programmes.
Schlumberger Seaco won an 18-month exploration licence over a large chunk of offshore north Taranaki late last year and has already started the sophisticated survey that has the potential to accelerate future oil and gas exploration in the region.
It is acquiring at least 4000 square kilometres of 3D data, though it may also acquire gravity, magnetic or even geochemistry surveys over the area, acquiring proprietary rights over all the data gained for up to 15 years. It can then sell the data, or parts thereof, to multiple explorers.
Such successful “spec surveys” have the potential to tighten explorers’ proposed work programmes and accelerate drilling activity. They are also an innovative way for the government to get high quality preliminary exploration work done, highlighting the potential of some of this year’s proposed new exploration acreage, and adding to the Crown’s oil and gas estate without any direct expenditure.
The Western Monarch was working off New Plymouth and Waitara during early February in a programme that could take several months.
The 7386-tonne Skandi Singapore, one of the most technically advanced dive support vessels in the world, is believed to be undertaking several seabed surveys off Taranaki, ensuring the locations of several exploration wells planned for 2013-2014 are secure. The ship is also understood to be involved in several subsurface inspection and maintenance programmes involving existing offshore production facilities.
Last year the Skandi helped ensure subsea equipment at the Tui oil field and the Kupe and Pohokura gas fields was in good condition.
Austrian giant OMV has confirmed the return of the jack-up Ensco Rig 107 later this year, for the second phase development of the offshore Taranaki Maari-Manaia-oil field, as well as the return of the semi-submersible Kan Tan IV for at least two near field appraisal (NFA) wells.
OMV and its various partners are bringing back an overhauled and refurbished Kan Tan IV back after three years to drill at least the Whio Prospect, only 4km from the Maari-Manaia field, and the Matuku Prospect, about 25km away.
OMV and the Maari partners are bringing the Ensco rig back after almost four years for a multi-well programme at Maari-Manaia testing new horizons, such as the Manaia South structure, and deeper zones, such as the Mangahewa Formation, as well as the existing producing shallower Moki Formation.
Meanwhile, TAG Oil is picking itself up after temporarily being floored by the unexpected announcement in mid-January that its East Coast partner US major Apache was pulling out of its East Coast alliance with the Canadian listed junior.
However, Apache is paying TAG to complete the first phase of the East Coast exploration -- two wells near Gisborne and two near Dannevirke targeting conventional and unconventional petroleum that includes the Waipawa and Whangai shales, with the first well due to be drilled in March or April.
TAG has also announced an active onshore exploration and production campaign in Taranaki, drilling at least 13 shallow and deeper wells this year at a cost of about $US36 million.
The shallow wells will be in the central Taranaki Cheal and Sidewinder fields, and in TAG’s three new permits acquired in association with Canadian newcomer East West Petroleum. TAG’s deeper high-impact targets will be in the nearby Cardiff lease and the last of TAG’s newly-acquired licences.
Fellow Canadian listed junior New Zealand Energy Corp has announced plans to complete two Arakamu wells for future production, while its second Waitapu well has achieved commercial production, averaging 151 barrels of oil per day.
NZEC has also started drilling at Wairere, its fourth wellsite, just southwest of the company's Copper Moki field and the nearby Waihapa production station, to test the shallow Mount Messenger sandstones.
UK listed but New Zealand focused junior Kea Petroleum plans to spend almost $US20 million during 2013 on acquiring 3D seismic over its onshore Puka oil and gas discovery, drilling the Puka-2 and 3 appraisal wells, drilling the onshore-offshore Mauku prospect north of Awakino, and acquiring some 3D marine seismic over its offshore Mercury Prospect north of New Plymouth.
In other news, New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless and six other Greenpeace activists have each been sentenced to 120 hours of community work and each ordered to pay Port Taranaki $651.44 in reparation on previously admitted charges of illegally boarding the Noble Discoverer drillship at the port last February.
In the New Plymouth District Court, Judge Allan Roberts rejected the request for $648,366.15 in reparation from Maui operator Shell Todd Oil Services, which had chartered the drillship to drill on the edge of the gas field,because only Lawless had the ability to pay that amount.
However, he said STOS could still take judicial action to recover reparation. STOS general manager Rob Jager later said the company was “considering the options with regards to a civil claim”.
The Xena, Warrior Princess star appeared under her married name, Lucy Tapert, along with Raoni Hammer (31) and Australian Shayne Comino (34), both of Lyttelton; Michael Buchanan (29), Diamond Harbour,Canterbury; Vivienne Hadlow (29), an Englishwoman living in Auckland; Ilai Amir (26), an Israeli living in Auckland; and Zach Penman (22), Hamilton.
Spanish national Shai Naides is still to be sentenced as he is in his home country, though he is scheduled to reappear in court next month.
The group breached port security, scaling the drillship's 56m-high derrick,camping out for four days and unfurling banners reading "Stop Shell" and "Save the Arctic".
And Prime Minister John Key has kicked former Energy and Resources Minister Phil Heatley out of Cabinet after only a year in the role and replaced him with Simon Bridges.