Coupled with the extraordinary drilling result, we reshaped the asset portfolio to focus on high impact, high quality projects and added capacity to our financial capability by agreeing a US$45 million reserve-based lending facility with the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The importance of having the financial strength to add valuable upside to the portfolio of a smaller company cannot be over emphasised in the current industry environment where promising projects command a high premium for entry.
FINANCIAL AND OPERATING RESULTS
After tax profit for the year from continuing operations more than doubled, rising to US$20.3 million from US$8.2 million in 2004. After tax profit including discontinued operations fell, reflecting the 2004 disposal of our Tunisia interests that netted US$21.4 million. The non-current portion of the consideration for the Group's disposal of its Mongolia interests in 2005 is classified as a non-current financial asset.
Production net to the Company's working interest increased, rising to 5,684 barrels of oil per day (BOPD) in 2005 from 5,533 BOPD the prior year. The increase was achieved even though discontinued operations only contributed 155 BOPD during the year from Mongolia, compared to 11 months of Tunisia production (1,237 BOPD) and a full year of Mongolia production (338 BOPD) in the 2004 statistics.
With full year drilling programs in both Vietnam and Yemen, the Group had its largest capital expenditure program ever in 2005, with a cash spend of US$76.2 million almost trebling the previous year's capital expenditures. The result is that year on year cash balances declined from US$71.1 million at year end 2004 to US$51.0 million at year end 2005.
Consistent with the Company's stated strategy of rationalising its portfolio by monetising non-core assets, SOCO sold the entities holding its Mongolia interests to a subsidiary of PetroChina. The transaction, which closed in August 2005, immediately added approximately US$30 million to the Group's cash position with an additional US$10 million receivable placed in escrow. Subsequent compensation of up to approximately US$53 million associated with future production from the interests sold would bring the total compensation to approximately US$93 million. Importantly, this transaction allows us additional flexibility in focusing on other projects that may have a greater near term impact.
The Company announced in August that its 85% owned subsidiary, SOCO Exploration and Production Congo (SOCO EPC), signed a production sharing contract with Societe Nationale des Petroles du Congo (SNPC) wherein it acquired an interest in the Marine XI Block, offshore the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville). Previous exploration on this Block led to several discoveries, one of which has been partially delineated with recoverable reserves of 20 to 60 million barrels. However, the full potential of the Block has not been previously explored as there is a thick layer of salt which has impeded seismic interpretation.
Application of newer seismic technology, such as that used in Vietnam, can unlock the potential of the Block. As an exploration led company, the ability to introduce exciting new prospective areas such as Marine XI to the portfolio is key to continuing the momentum resulting from our success in Vietnam and Yemen.
2005 OPERATIONS REVIEW
It would be hard to expect a much better scenario than the one that evolved in Vietnam in 2005, but it could be just setting the stage for a better 2006. Last year got off to a resounding start with the Ca Ngu Vang (CNV) appraisal well success on Block 9-2, which tested at 13,040 barrels of oil equivalent per day (BOEPD). This success was followed by a discovery in the Tertiary sediments of a new play trend in a previously undrilled region of Block 16-1. The Te Giac Trang -1X (TGT-1X) tested at 9,432 BOEPD. TGT was the first structure tested in a new play fairway that extends for some 80 kilomets along the eastern and southern regions of Block 16-1.
The second appraisal well on the CNV structure on Block 9-2 offshore Vietnam, CNV-4X, encountered an oil and gas interval with unexpected high pressure in the sandstone sequence overlying the Basement objective, and had to be temporarily suspended. The pressures encountered were significantly higher than those seen previously on the other CNV wells.
The joint venture partners have redesigned the drilling plan for a re-entry into this well in 2006.
The Kharir field, where the majority of the consortium's crude oil production is sourced in the East Shabwa Development Area on Block 10 in Yemen, was the focus of the Basement drilling program for most of 2005. The consortium was rewarded with wells, which extended the limits of the field, testing at rates ranging from 7,300 BOPD from the KHA 1-10 well, testing the eastern extension of the field as then mapped, to 850 BOPD from the KHA 3- 07, which was on the previously undrilled Kharir North structure.
In addition to Basement appraisal wells drilled in and around the Kharir field, the consortium initiated step-out exploration wells in the northern area of Block 10. The first of these wells, the Jathma-1 (JAT-01), tested at over 1,900 BOPD, causing considerable optimism when considering that only relatively poor quality 2D seismic data were available and the well was essentially a vertical rather than highly deviated Basement well. The consortium expects to have three rigs working on the exploration/appraisal/development/injector drilling program in 2006.
The 2005/2006 program for Block 10 in Yemen also involves de-bottlenecking and other production enhancement efforts. The end result of this is expected to expand the consortium's export capability significantly, eventually reaching around 70,000 BOPD by 2007.
In August 2005, SOCO agreed a credit facility with the IFC, the private sector arm of the World Bank. The US$45 million reserve-based, revolving credit facility has a seven year tenor that will be made available to SOCO in two tranches. The first tranche of US$25 million is immediately accessible and the second tranche of US$20 million is a standby loan.
We are pleased to have the involvement of the IFC as they not only bring expertise in the oil and gas sector, but are also leaders on the environmental and social sustainability front. The long term availability of the financing will provide us with additional flexibility to finance our current projects and pursue future opportunities. The IFC is a strong ally in the countries in which we currently operate as well as those frontier countries in which we hope to initiate projects in the future.
Operationally, 2006 will be a banner year for SOCO. The capital budget will be the largest in the Group's history, with approximately US$100 million earmarked. Results from the drill bit will continue to dominate news flow in 2006. We are off to a very good start to the year in Vietnam. The first drill stem test from the TGT-2X appraisal well flowed at 3,300 BOPD from the Oligocene 'C' interval, which was non-productive in the discovery well. Testing operations continue amidst high expectations. Several analogous prospects and leads have been mapped along the fairway and we expect that the success at TGT will be repeated. As we have more successful wells on Block 16-1, we would expect the risk profile of the drilling program to be reduced as many of the subsurface questions are answered. We expect 2006 to be a watershed year in Vietnam as we move toward development on our projects in the Cuu Long Basin. In Yemen, the exploration drilling program, of which an extension of the Kharir field eastward will be a significant part, will give us a good indication of the upside remaining on Block 10. As importantly, the production capacity upgrades will start to have a significant impact as export capability should increase considerably throughout the year.
Having established the presence of oil in the northern extension of Kharir, we will now appraise and develop the pool with inclined wells, which should yield higher flow rates such as those seen in wells in the main part of the field. There were many positives in 2005 that largely resulted from forces beyond the control of those who benefited the most. We think that external industry influences will remain fairly stable during 2006 and companies that are not positioned to create their own good fortune will be hard pressed to top last year's performance. While SOCO also benefited to a degree from environmental influences, as an exploration led company most of our success was due directly to our own efforts. More importantly, we are well positioned to continue as we have the portfolio in place and the resources to exploit it.
Whilst we do not think such high drilling success ratios are sustainable in the long term, we are definitely well placed again to enjoy substantial success in 2006. We have the people, we have the portfolio and we have the materials and equipment under contract to ensure that this will again be a news driven year.
Last year we spoke of streamlining our portfolio and refocusing our resources.
Although the portfolio is in great shape, we would not hesitate to add
additional projects that offered material upside to our shareholders. We trust
that your confidence in our strategy of recognising opportunity, capturing
potential and realising value will again be confirmed throughout the year.
The long anticipated, high impact drilling programs in Vietnam and Yemen did not disappoint in 2005. Three wells were drilled in Vietnam, with the first two yielding spectacular results. An appraisal well to the 2002 discovery on Block 9-2 on the Ca Ngu Vang (CNV) structure tested at a daily rate of more than 13,000 barrels of oil equivalent (BOEPD). This was followed by the first exploration well to be drilled on the eastern part of Block 16-1, which tested the Te Giac Trang (TGT) structure. The TGT-1X tested at more than 9,400 BOEPD. The third well had to be temporarily suspended after encountering hydrocarbons in an unexpected high pressure environment.
Results from the Yemen appraisal program were equally impressive beginning with the 6,500 barrels of oil per day (BOPD) test on the Kharir field well KHA 1-09. This was followed by drilling successes at the KHA 2-16 (5,500 BOPD) and the KHA 1-10 well (7,300 BOPD) yielding a 100% success ratio in the Yemen drilling program. Yemen is now the only country in which the Company has production following the 2005 disposal of its interests in Mongolia. Even with the reliance on a sole producing asset since the August disposal, crude oil production net to the Group's working interest rose from 5,533 BOPD in 2004 to 5,684 BOPD in 2005.
SOCO holds its interests in Vietnam, all in the Cuu Long Basin offshore, through its 80% owned subsidiary SOCO Vietnam Ltd (SOCO Vietnam). SOCO Vietnam holds a 25% working interest in Block 9-2, which is operated by the Hoan Vu Joint Operating Company and a 28.5% working interest in Block 16-1, which is operated by the Hoang Long Joint Operating Company (together, JOCs). Both Blocks are on trend with several major Basement and Tertiary discoveries in the Cuu Long Basin. Both are also contiguous to the Bach Ho field, where 2005 production reportedly averaged approximately 200,000 BOPD and 200 million cubic feet of gas per day (MMCFD), and the Rang Dong field, where production reportedly averaged approximately 48,000 BOPD, primarily from Basement.
Review of 2005 activities
After an almost three year drilling abeyance preparing for this extensive exploration and appraisal program, the Group resumed drilling in Vietnam with the spudding of the CNV-3X appraisal well on Block 9-2 in January. This well was drilled to a measured depth (MD) of 6,123 mets making it the longest MD well to be drilled in Vietnam. Reaching target depth on 16 April, the well had an extensive clean-up period before testing water-free at a maximum combined rate of 13,040 BOEPD comprising 9,010 BOPD and 22.6 MMCFD. Although the well was suspended as a potential producer, it will more than likely be used as an injector well following the drilling of other shallower development wells before the field goes into production.
Following the CNV-3X test, the rig was towed to Block 16-1 where it spudded the initial wildcat exploration well on the 'H' prospect on 2 June. The TGT-1X was drilled to a total MD of 4,478 meters to test several Miocene and Oligocene intervals in a previously undrilled part of Block 16-1. It was drilled significantly deeper than the original prognosis due to the continuing presence of encouraging hydrocarbon shows, reaching target depth in August. A drill stem test conducted from the Lower Bach Ho formation in the Miocene interval between 2,701 meters and 2,760 meters yielded a combined maximum rate of 9,432 BOEPD comprising 8,566 BOPD of 37 degree API gravity crude and approximately 4.86 MMCFD through a 80/64 inch choke size. The calculated net pay was approximately 31 meters over the test interval. An additional 33 meters of net pay interval were not perforated due to the limited equipment and materials available within the applicable time constraints. Based on the data from the well test, oil samples from wireline formation tests and well logs, the untested interval is considered to be oil bearing and capable of production. A brief test was conducted over a deeper Oligocene interval that also contained significant oil shows, but the formation was determined to be tight and thus unable to flow commercial quantities of hydrocarbons.
The rig was moved immediately back to Block 9-2 to spud the CNV-4X, a follow-up appraisal well to the CNV-3X discovery, on 31 August. The well encountered an oil and gas interval with unexpected high pressure, significantly higher than those seen previously on the other CNV wells, in the Oligocene 'E' sequence, the sandstone sequence overlying the Basement objective.
The well encountered a gross 370 meter vertical section of oil shows with attendant gas through the Oligocene 'E' sandstone section, based on mud logs, drilling cuttings analysis and 'logging while drilling' logs. The use of higher than anticipated mud weights to control the encountered pressures led to problems higher in the open hole section where the drill string became differentially stuck while pulling out of the hole to run casing into the top of Basement. Numerous attempts to fish the stuck drill string were unsuccessful. In December, the well was temporarily suspended following the loss of the 121/4 inch hole section above the granitic Basement reservoir.
Subsequent events and 2006 outlook
An up-dip appraisal well to the 2005 discovery well on the TGT structure on Block 16-1 spudded on 18 January 2006. It reached target depth of 3,436 meters in mid-February after intersecting hydrocarbons in the Miocene and Oligocene intervals. The TGT-2X well flowed 3,300 BOPD from the first drill stem test in Oligocene 'C' interval, which failed to flow in the discovery well. At a minimum, additional flow tests will be conducted from two Miocene intervals, one which was not tested in the discovery well and the other that flowed at 9,342 BOEPD.
The discovery well on the TGT structure confirmed the presence of a highly prospective Lower Miocene play fairway extending for some 80 kilometers across the southern and eastern area of Block 16-1 where several prospects and leads have been mapped. The success of the second TGT well now sets the stage to fast track the development of the field and adds significant upside to the remaining exploration potential. The Hoang Long JOC has contracted to acquire an additional 3D seismic survey in order to evaluate several leads in the area between the initial 3D survey on the western portion of the Block and the 3D survey conducted prior to exploratory operations on the eastern portion of the Block. The rig currently working is available through July to continue drilling operations in the Cuu Long Basin. It is expected that the majority of the remaining work program for this rig will be conducted on Block 16-1. The JOCs have contracted the Transocean Triton 9 rig for a nine month period to continue drilling operations on the Blocks after the current rig contract expires, with the expectation that it will become available late in the third quarter of 2006.
Efforts continue towards a declaration of commerciality for the CNV structure. The front-end work required to transition operations from the exploratory phase to the development phase has been completed. Although the timing is uncertain, the CNV-4X will be re-entered in 2006 incorporating a different drilling fluid and casing design to enable the overpressured section to be redrilled safely.
The focus on targeting Basement exploration and appraisal has completely transformed the East Shabwa Development Area (ESDA) from a rapidly declining Cretaceous producer to an asset with expectations of accelerated production through the next several years. The success here has allowed the Company to rely on this asset in the short term as its sole contributor to operating cash flow. ESDA production averaged 32,937 BOPD for 2005 increasing almost 40% from 23,635 BOPD the previous year.
The Group is a 58.75% majority shareholder of Comeco Petroleum, Inc. (Comeco), which holds a 28.57% direct interest in the ESDA. A subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, which is also a co-venturer in the ESDA with a 28.57% interest, holds the remaining interest in Comeco. Total E&P Yemen, with an interest equal to Comeco's, operates the concession and a subsidiary of Kufpec, the Kuwaiti foreign oil company, holds the remaining 14.29%. Production from the ESDA, which currently originates primarily from the Kharir field, is transported by pipeline and commingled with production from the neighbouring Masila Block before transportation by pipeline to the coastal Ash Shihr export terminal. SOCO's crude entitlement is sold under a 12-month spot market contract.
Review of 2005 activities
The successful drilling program that began in 2004 featuring highly deviated wells targeting Basement continued throughout 2005. The three part program for the year was designed to further appraise the Kharir Basement structure, to increase reserves through exploration and to increase production. The consortium enjoyed a 100% success ratio during the year. By the end of 2005, three drilling rigs were working in the ESDA. During the year, the consortium agreed a new well designation scheme proposed by the Yemeni government.
Although the KHA 1-09 well (formerly KHA-403) spudded in December 2004, it wasn't tested until February 2005. The objectives of the well were to delineate the Basement and evaluate reservoir development in the undrilled western extension of the structure. The well reached a total depth of 3,383 meters and produced over 6,500 BOPD when tested. A second delineation well, the KHA 2-16 (formerly KHA-404), spudded in the northern extension of the Kharir structure on 1 February 2005 and reached a total depth of 3,539 meters. It produced more than 5,500 BOPD when tested in April. A well drilled to evaluate the eastern extension of the Kharir field spudded at the end of March. The KHA 1-10 well (formerly KHA-405) reached a total depth of 3,755 meters and was tested in June. The test was limited by capacity restrictions in the main production facility but yielded more than 7,300 BOPD.
The third Basement well spudded in the 2005 ESDA drilling program, the KHA 2-17 (formerly KHA-406), spudded on 11 June and was designed to be a water injection well for pressure maintenance of the reservoir. It was the source of a water injectivity test that began in September.
The KHA 3-07 (formerly KHA-407) was the first well to target Basement on the Kharir North prospect. It spudded at the end of August and reached a total depth of 3,472 meters. The well tested in mid-November and yielded more than 850 BOPD against a 26/64 inch choke. After primarily focusing on appraisal and step-out wells in and around the Kharir field, the rig was moved to drill the Jathma exploration well (JAT-01) to test a new Basement prospect in the northern area of Block 10. The well spudded on 22 October 2005 and reached a total depth of 3,175 meters. The well tested over 1,900 BOPD against a 56/64 inch choke with an API gravity of 35 degrees.
In December 2005, a second drilling rig was brought in to spud the JAT-02 well at a location in the northern part of the Jathma prospect. A third drilling rig was also commissioned during the month and on 12 December it commenced drilling a production well on the Atuf Northwest field located in the southern area of Block 10, which produces from the Cretaceous Biyad interval.
During the year almost 70% of the production was sourced from the Basement although, historically, production was sourced from the Cretaceous clastic Biyad reservoir. The former has associated gas whilst the latter is characterised by high water cuts as are typical of wells producing from this reservoir in the region. Accordingly, efforts are underway to deal with declining water disposal requirements and increasing gas disposal capabilities. Work continued during the period on de-bottlenecking production facilities and increasing oil handling capacity.
Subsequent events and 2006 outlook
Although the JAT-02 well encountered a significant oil column, the well did not produce when production tested, which indicated poor fracture development at this location. Further evaluation of the results of this and the JAT-01 test will be carried out to establish the most appropriate scenarios for appraisal and/or development. The JAT-03 well drilled on the eastern border of Block 10 was plugged and abandoned in March after failing to encounter hydrocarbons in the Basement.
Three drilling rigs are expected to continue operating throughout the year. As at the date of this publication, two rigs are drilling production and injection wells in the Kharir field. A third rig is continuing the evaluation of the Jathma/Wadi Taribah field.
Additional short term production capacity was added on a temporary basis when the consortium leased a portable production unit from another area operator. This will serve to provide a production uplift whilst work continues on permanently expanding current facilities. This, together with adding water injection capability to improve pressure maintenance in the Basement reservoir, should add considerable productive capability from the interval.
The Company has spent more than three years targeting areas that would allow it to focus its expertise, yet provide large enough interests and significant upside to continue its highly successful exploration led strategy. West Africa met all the criteria. As industry exploration efforts in West Africa move into ever deeper waters, the application of new technology provides access to significant reserve potential in under-explored shallow water areas. Thus negotiations began with the appropriate authorities in targeted countries several years ago to establish a foothold in the region. Marine XI was a significant first step, providing a cornerstone in the region.
Review of 2005 activities
The Company announced in August that its 85% owned subsidiary, SOCO Exploration and Production Congo (SOCO EPC), signed a production sharing contract with Societe Nationale des Petroles du Congo (SNPC) wherein it acquired an interest in the Marine XI Block, offshore the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville).
SOCO EPC will be the operator with a 75% working interest in the Block that was licenced to SNPC by presidential decree in July 2005. The exploration and production branch of SNPC (15%) and Africa Oil & Gas Corporation (10%) hold the remaining interests. The Block, located in the Lower Congo Basin, is in shallow water adjacent to the coast with water depths ranging up to 110 meters and covers approximately 1,400 square kilometers. There has been previous exploration activity on the Block resulting in four small oil discoveries, the largest of which has initial recoverable reserves estimated to be in the 30 million barrel range.
The previous discoveries are located in the shallower horizons of the sedimentary section in Marine XI. The deeper section, productive onshore and on trend to the south in Cabinda, has not been adequately evaluated as it could not be accurately mapped using older seismic data.
Subsequent events and 2006 outlook
The Group has issued bid documents for a 3D seismic program which it expects to conduct in the second half of 2006. By employing the modern seismic techniques that the Company successfully applied in Vietnam to map the Basement reservoir, SOCO EPC expects to exploit the potential of the deeper section.
Although the Group is in discussions with various parties to farm-out a portion of its interests in Marine XI, it would retain a significant portion of the Block and operatorship.
SOCO's 99.93% owned Thailand subsidiary holds a 100% interest in Block B8/38 located offshore in the Gulf of Thailand. The Group filed an application and development plan in 2005 with the Thailand Department of Mineral Fuels to convert the concession to a production licence on the Bualuang (renamed from Pornsiri). The application was approved in March 2006.
The preferred development scenario is for the Group to farm-out a portion of its interest to a third party with expertise in development in the region. Accordingly, the Group expects to conclude discussions with various interested parties to begin development of the Bualuang field during 2006.
OTHER AREAS OF INTEREST
The Group maintains its shareholding in the ODEX Exploration Limited (ODEX) joint venture. The ODEX shareholding comprises SOCO North Africa Ltd. (34%), and subsidiaries of Oilinvest (Netherlands) B.V. (46%) and Joint Stock Bank of the Gas Industry Gazprombank (20%). From SOCO's standpoint, the niche for ODEX was to participate with one or more indigenous Libyan companies in exploiting existing but problematic development opportunities. With the recent focus of the Libyan National Oil Company on open exploration bid rounds, significant progress in other areas is unlikely to be made in the near term.
Accordingly, the Group will continue to assess its participation in the consortium in light of reasonable expectations of success. It is anticipated that ODEX will continue to be the vehicle through which the Group will explore various opportunities that may arise in Libya and certain parts of Africa as the consortium is well placed to take advantage of its strong regional relationships.
The Group is interested in extending its holdings in West Africa beyond the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville) and is in various stages of negotiations with other sovereignties in the region. Under a memorandum of understanding signed with the Democratic Republic of Congo (Kinshasa), the Company carried out an initial aeromagnetic gravity survey in 2005 to further delineate prospective potential in certain areas of the country. Work continues on interpreting the results of the survey.
In April 2005, the Company entered into an agreement to sell the whole of its Mongolia interest to Daqing Oilfield Limited Company, a subsidiary of PetroChina. The transaction was approved by SOCO shareholders at an EGM on 10 May 2005 and was completed on 18 August 2005.
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