The Minister of State at the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources opened the 2015 Atlantic Margin Licensing Round on 18 June 2014 advising that applications for Licensing Options are to be submitted by 16 September 2015. The acreage proposed consists of 995 full blocks and 93 part blocks, and covers an area of approximately 256,700 km2. Three regions have been delineated, with specific rules applying to each of them. Applications should not comprise more than four complete blocks in Region 1 (Donegal, Erris and Slyne Basins), six complete blocks in Region 2 (Porcupine and Goban Spur Basins) and 10 complete blocks in Region 3 (Rockall Basin). Licensing Options are available for a maximum of two years and may not be extended. However, a three-year Licensing Option may be offered if the application is wholly or partly located in an area which is recognised as being environmentally sensitive.
The Atlantic margin offshore Ireland is a difficult operating environment where deepwater challenges are coupled with environmental and financial constraints that significantly impact drilling costs. Not surprisingly, the area is ranked as seriously underexplored – yet tax provisions relating to hydrocarbon exploration and production are to be revised upward in favour of the state. With this round, the marginal tax rate on oil and gas production will rise to a maximum 55% from 40%. To improve the image of offshore prospectivity, the government is offering enhanced data quality and moving to de-risk the exploration effort by acquiring and making available 18,000 km of 2D seismic data.
With Liberia battling the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus, the National Oil Company of Liberia launched the 2014 bid round at the beginning of August and already the bid submission date has been revised to 14 November 2014. Four undrilled offshore blocks are offered. Blocks LB-6 and LB-7 in the Liberia Subbasin, where water depths range from 20 to 3,000m, were part of the Liberia Basin 2007/8 bid round but were never awarded. Blocks LB-16 and LB-17 in the Sierra Leone-Liberia Basin, with water depths down to 3,000m, were awarded in the 2004 Bid Round and are again available.
The Narina-1 wildcat drilled on LB-09 in January 2012 encountered a combined total of 31m of net oil pay in the primary objective Turonian fan system and underlying Albian reservoirs with no oil/water contacts observed – the first well to prove a working petroleum system in the central Liberian basin. Recent advances in deepwater technology have opened up the region to a new phase of exploration. According to the National Oil Company of Liberia (NOCAL), a full working petroleum system in the Liberia Basin is evident and this is shown to continue along trend beyond Block 17 with the Mercury discovery in Sierra Leone.
The first exploration period of three years requires 3D seismic, while the second and third periods, each of two years, require the drilling of one well in each period.
The Oman Ministry of Oil and Gas (MOG) are offering two offshore and three onshore blocks covering a total of 76,416 km2 for international tender. The 2014 bid round includes offshore Block 18 (Batinah Coast) and Block 59 (Arabian Sea); and onshore Block 43A (Dhahirah), Block 54 (Karawan) and Block 58 (Qatbeet). The deadline for the submission of sealed bids is 31 October 2014. Block 18, with water depths of between 30 and 3,000m, was previously held by Reliance Industries. It includes three wells drilled by Wintershall and Reliance, including Batinah Marine-B1 which resulted in oil and gas shows. Offshore Block 59 is the largest on offer and is undrilled; water depths range between 0 and 3,600m. There are seven wells on onshore Block 54, four of which were drilled by the Occidental, Mubadala and Mutsui consortium between 2008 and 2010. Both blocks 43A and 58 are considered underexplored and include one well drilled in each block; Amoco Oman Gas drilled Jebel Sumeini-1 in 1988 and PTT Exploration and Production Public Company (PTTEP) drilled Wassa-1 in 2009, in blocks 43A and 58 respectively.
International oil companies and independents have gained a more prominent role in reversing Oman’s oil production decline but the government seems keen to restrict output at 950,000–960,000 bpd because the state wants to be able to sustain production levels from difficult-to-access resources for a period of time. Independents have overall been very successful in Oman but the authorities are shifting investors’ focus towards its offshore acreage, which remains largely untapped.