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11/11/2007 | Brazil - The Benefits of a Mammoth Oil Find

Stratfor Staff

Brazil's mammoth offshore oil find, projected to hold as much as 8 billion barrels of light crude, gives the country the world's eighth-largest reserve of oil and increases its reserves by 40 percent.

 

More important, the field will provide Brazil with an energy alternative to its unreliable Latin American neighbors and strengthen Petroleo Brasileiro's grip on deepwater drilling.


Officials at Brazil's government-run oil firm, Petroleo Brasileiro (Petrobras), confirmed Nov. 8 that a huge offshore discovery in the Tupi field could hold as much as 8 billion barrels of recoverable light crude. The find could put Brazil between Venezuela and Nigeria in terms of oil production and turn Brazil into a major world exporter -- although those could be the least significant aspects of the find.

Commercial production at the Tupi field is expected to begin in 2013-14 with an initial target of 100,000 barrels per day (bpd) of light crude -- potentially to reach 1 million bpd down the line. Brazil currently imports 360,000 bpd (the projected 2007 figure) of light crude to mix with domestically extracted heavy crude for refined products. In terms of volume, the Tupi field could make Petrobras' reserves higher than those of Royal Dutch/Shell and Chevron Corp., with only ExxonMobil Corp. and BP ahead of it.

More important, this development will reduce Brazil's energy dependence on its unreliable neighbors, especially Bolivia. Brazil currently imports 9 billion cubic meters of natural gas each year from Bolivia alone, and it has gone to great lengths to reduce that dependency. Its extensive ethanol biofuels program and its decision to build three liquefied natural gas terminals -- one in Rio de Janeiro and one in the northeastern state of Ceara, both of which will go on line in May 2008 -- are all attempts to reduce dependence on Bolivian natural gas. The Tupi field, therefore, could provide Brasilia with attractive options. As President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva's chief of staff explained, the field "has changed our reality."

Helping Brazil make the most of this new reality is Petrobras itself. Brazil's energy powerhouse is an atypical state-owned company (the state controls 55.7 percent) in that it is operated like a well-run private business. Moreover, Petrobras already is considered a world leader in deepwater exploration technology -- providing technological know-how to India's Oil and Natural Gas Corp. and Mexico's Petroleos Mexicanos -- and it currently is the world's largest deepwater producer, with about 65 percent of its offshore exploration blocks below 1,300 feet and 70 percent of its production coming from deep and ultradeep waters. The company, therefore, is more than ready to face the technological challenge of extracting oil from the ultradeep Tupi field -- which lies more than 23,000 feet below sea level (7,000 feet of water, 10,000 feet of sand and rock and another 6,600 feet of salt).

Petrobras, therefore, is looking at becoming the developing world's first supermajor -- one that has the technological know-how to handle offshore exploration at extreme depths. And it could leverage its image as a nonthreatening, extremely efficient developing-world company to provide offshore drilling services in countries such as India, Nigeria and Angola -- which fear that the developed world's supermajors are exploiting their natural resources.

The Tupi field will definitely give Brasilia options in both its energy strategy and its future trade relations, especially with oil-hungry countries such as China. For instance, it could leverage its oil find for favorable terms for its export of soy to China. Becoming a major oil exporter could even impact how Brazil looks at climate change negotiations and its ethanol biofuels strategy. It could concentrate on developing its biofuels infrastructure and become a major oil exporter, or it could chose to supply the European Union with ethanol while keeping the oil in this find to secure its own energy independence.

Either way, Brazil will soon have the options to play the market and decide on the most beneficial strategy.

Stratfor (Estados Unidos)

 


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