Meta Plans US$1bn Project to Boost Oil Output

Colombian oil company Meta Petroleum has begun the basic engineering phase on a US$1bn project that would increase production on the Rubiales field to 100,000 barrels of oil a day (b/d), project manager Colin Crewe told BNamericas.

The oil produced on the approximately 2,000 sq km field has 12.7-degree API crude.

Pipeline limitations mean that production is trucked to the domestic market, where it is sold as fuel oil.

Although the drilling of new wells has increased present-day production to 12,000b/d from 9,000b/d at end-2005, Meta will be forced to shut wells in because trucking limits sales to 15,000b/d, Crewe said.

Meta's expansion proposal entails using the Rubiales oil to produce 100,000b/d low-viscosity syncrude, which would be transported via a new 230km, 24-inch diameter pipeline to the existing Ocensa pipeline for international export, according to a company presentation.

A conceptual design feasibility study for the expansion started after investors asked the company to look into increasing production to at least 50,000b/d.

Meta has spoken to several banks in order to determine the most effective loan structure, Crewe said, adding loans would provide 60% of the US$1bn costs and equity would cover the other 40%.

The company's two shareholders are Brazilian independent Petrosynergy and UK investment company Elliot International, who are currently seeking a third partner through US investment bank Lehman Brothers to shoulder the costs, Crewe said.

Several companies have approached Meta Petroleum directly to express interest and are in the process of putting their proposals in order.

The project includes upstream investments such as new wells, new collection, disposal, solids handling and produced water treatment facilities.

The project also requires upgraders, utilities, offsite facilities, new infrastructure and a pumping station.

The basic engineering phase of the project should finish in 3Q06, when the company will call for bids, Crewe said. The company expects first oil in January 2010.

Meta will offer an EPC contract and has already spoken with several large international contractors, Crewe continued.

Meta is currently in the process of drilling 15 wells to determine which wells are most effective. At the moment horizontal wells appear to be the frontrunners.

"The field would support 100,000b/d for 15 years so it's a significant field. Part of the drilling campaign is to investigate exactly how big it is, because we think it's a lot bigger than what we've got as proven reserves right now," Crewe said.

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