Rig demand surge in Guyana-Suriname basin as oil majors ramp up exploration and production

Rig demand surge in Guyana-Suriname basin as oil majors ramp up exploration and production
While most regions are reporting lower offshore drilling rig activity, South America is bucking the trend - and this time it's not just Brazil driving demand.

The South American rig market, led by Brazilian NOC Petrobras, has encountered its fair share of problems over the past years. The 2014 oil price crash and Brazilian Car Wash corruption scandal made their mark on offshore rig demand and utilization. However, while the Coronavirus pandemic and new oil price crash has led to lowered global demand and a glut of offshore rigs, the South American market seems to be bucking this trend thanks not only to Brazil but from increasing activity in the infantile Guyana-Suriname basin.

According to Bassoe Rig Analyticslatest demand forecast shown in Figure 1, as of late January 2021 the rig count in the region reached 30 units and utilization hit 75% – the highest recorded in over three years, and over the next few years demand and utilization are set to continue their upward trajectory.


Figure 1: South American demand and competitive utilization forecast (Jan 2018 – Jan 2022); Data from Bassoe Rig Demand. A more detailed monthly breakdown of offshore rig utilization and demand forecasts can be accessed in Bassoe Rig Analytics Premium.

We cannot deny Petrobras’ driving force in the region’s recovery. The operator accounts for 63% of rigs currently working in the region, but the South American rig market is being bolstered by more than just Brazil these days. Trinidad and Tobago has already made its mark with large hydrocarbon finds by companies such as BP and BHP Billiton, and currently has two semisubs and one jackup operating in the area.

Then there is the Guyana-Suriname basin, the region’s new kid on the block, which is quickly becoming an important part of the South American offshore scene.


Drilling activity to increase in Guyana-Suriname basin

In the span of just five years, ExxonMobil has had 18 successful discoveries in the Guyanese Stabroek Block alone and proven recoverable resources of more than 9 bboe.  And the operator does not plan on slowing down any time soon. The U.S. oil giant, with its partners, plans to drill more than 12 exploration and appraisal wells over the coming year, including the potential 500 million boe Bulletwood prospect, which is being drilled as we speak. Meanwhile, Tullow Oil and Repsol have been active in the region, but with limited results. Tullow’s two discoveries in the Orinduik Block, Jethro-1 and Joe-1, in 2019 showed potential but proved to contain heavy crudes, while Repsol made a non-commercial discovery with its Carapa-1 exploration well in the Kanuku Block.

Suriname has also bagged a series of discoveries. Apache and Total recently announced a fourth consecutive oil discovery in Block 58, located adjacent to the Stabroek Block, with a fifth exploration well, BonBoni-1, also scheduled to be drilled this year. Meanwhile, Tullow Oil recently started drilling the Goliathberg Voltzberg North-1 (GVN-1) exploration well using ultra-deepwater drillship Stena Forth and Petronas also discovered oil last year when drilling its Sloanea-1 exploration well in Block 52 using ultra-deepwater semisub Maersk Developer.

It may still be in its infancy, but the Guyana-Suriname basin has already proven itself as a prolific and exciting region. This points to a high likelihood that rig demand will continue to increase, especially if some of these planned exploration wells meet expectations.


Rig activity to reach new highs

While nine rigs are already confirmed for work offshore Guyana and Suriname this year, in the past the highest number of rigs operating at once has been just seven units (between November 2019 and January 2020). ExxonMobil has been the busiest operator so far with four drillships on contract in Guyanese waters and plans to add drillships Stena DrillMAX and Noble Sam Croft in Q1 and Q2 2021. Noble and Stena are the two established favorites for ExxonMobil in the region and this year will have a total of six  drillships working on continuously extended deals, under its Commercial Enabling Agreements (CEA), in the region. The U.S. supermajor typically takes rigs on a fixed period with multiple options thereafter. However, late last year, Noble Tom Madden was awarded a third contract extension for 6.5 years (until 2030), whereas ExxonMobil provided itself the flexibility to transfer awarded terms between the Noble Don Taylor, Noble Bob Douglas, Noble Tom Madden, and Noble Sam Croft.

In Suriname, there will be at least three floating rigs operating this year. Ultra-deepwater drillship Stena Forth commenced operations in late January on the GVN-1 exploration well for Tullow, while the ultra-deepwater semisub Maersk Developer is also on contract with Total, after it completed its one-well exploration contract with Petronas last year. The French oil major will also add a second Maersk rig, the drillship Maersk Valiant, in March as it looks to increase its drilling capabilities on Block 58. The Maersk contracts have an estimated combined duration of 500 days, with extension options thereafter. Meanwhile, drillship Noble Sam Croft will finish its contract with Apache in late Q1/early Q2 and move to Guyana for ExxonMobil.


 Figure 2: Firm offshore rig contract backlog in days and no. of rigs on contract; Data from Bassoe Rig Analytics


Further players eyeing exploration

There are multiple oil companies that may also look to start exploration in the coming years, which will add even more rig demand. In its most recent market update, Tullow Oil reported that work continues on “developing the prospect inventory on the Orinduik and Kanuku (operated by Repsol) licences offshore Guyana”. Meanwhile, after several years of delays, CGX Resources is looking to drill wells in the Corentyne and Demerara blocks – two oil concessions offshore Guyana.

In addition, it is understood that Shell is planning to drill an exploration well in Block 42, off Suriname, which it recently acquired from Kosmos Energy after the latter company failed to discover hydrocarbons with its Pontoenoe-1 well in 2018. Additionally, Petronas may be planning a follow-up campaign off Suriname after it completes evaluation of its 2020 Sloanea discovery.


Just the beginning

The Guyana-Suriname basin is still only at its early stages of oil exploration and we can expect companies to ramp up exploration and development operations going forward. As new large hydrocarbon discoveries are made the region is providing some much-needed, near-term demand for drillers in a challenging global market and, combined with Petrobras’ ramping up of Brazilian operations and continued success off Trinidad, South America has become a global hotspot for drillers and oil companies alike. Two years ago, the Guyana-Suriname Basin counted four rigs on contract, since then it has more than doubled. Going forward not only will it be the oil companies drilling the wildcats that will be eagerly awaiting the results this year, but rig owners too.


Bassoe Rig Analytics has launched a new supply and demand forecasting application that gives users access to a 10-year model for forecasted demand and utilization. Users can see monthly demand/supply figures and backlog for known requirements by region and rig type.  Users can also access and filter our list of known requirements which includes tenders, pre-tenders, planned, and possible programs. 

Image attribution: Stena Drilling. 

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