Total readies drills in Cyprus

France’s Total is preparing to drill for gas off Cyprus, close to ENI’s huge Zohr discovery off the Egyptian coast which in 2015 renewed interest among oil majors for exploration in the Mediterranean.

Cyprus awarded ENI, Total and ExxonMobil exploration licenses near the Zohr field in December, while neighboring Lebanon plans to restart its delayed oil and gas licensing round in the region. “Obviously the Zohr discovery has changed the landscape,”

Stephane Michel, who took over as Total’s President for Exploration and Production in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region in 2014, told Reuters on Thursday. “It is clear that the decision to drill block 11 was taken on the basis of the Zohr discovery,” Michel said, adding that preparations were in the final stages but there was no date yet when drilling would begin. Block 11 shares a boundary in the south with Zohr, and IHS Markit analysts said that Total’s well will be “one of the most critical wells drilled globally in 2017.” IHS said ENI has drilled five wells in Zohr.

Total, which has not made a major oil discovery in several years despite pouring about $10 billion in its “high-risk, high-reward” strategy launched in 2011, will also drill a well onshore in Egypt this year. Drilling in block 2 in onshore Egypt, a 50/50 partnership with BP, will start as soon as a rig currently being used by BP on another block is available, Michel said.

For the rest of the Middle East, Total will rely on forming partnerships through discovered resources opportunities (DRO) to continue to have access to reserves as it has done in Abu Dhabi with the ADCO deal in 2015, or the Al Shaheen deal in Qatar and South Pars in Iran in 2016. Total’s oil and gas production for the region will grow in 2017, Michel said, as it prepares to take over operations in Al Shaheen in July, and as Libyan fields return to work.

The French company won a 30 percent stake in a new 25-year contract to operate Qatar’s largest offshore oilfield in June and plans to invest about $2 billion developing it. In Libya where it is not a direct operator, political signals are mixed, while a restart in the oil and gas sector remains fragile, Michel said. “It will be some months before we can say we are out of the crisis. But we are glad to see Al Sharara back and we trust the restart is a sustainable one.” (Reuters)