BP & TPAO to Begin Black Sea Exploration in Late 2004

BP and TPAO said they expected to start the first well in their exploration venture in the eastern Black Sea at the end of 2004.

BP Turkey head Tahir Uysal said the Ramform Challenger, one of the world's largest 3D seismic survey vessels, had completed a seismic survey in a deepwater area north of the Turkish city of Trabzon as planned on August 21 last year.

BP and TPAO, equal partners in the venture, said the data acquired in the survey was of good quality and was currently undergoing processing and interpretation with the objective of identifying potential drill locations by mid-2004.

"If all the results are positive, the drilling work will begin towards the end of the year," Uysal told a news conference. As the water depth in the license area is between 1,000 and 2,000 meters, a special drilling rig will be required, the companies said. It is likely that this rig will have to come from Angola, Brazil or the Gulf of Mexico.

The rig will have to be modified significantly to be able to enter the Black Sea under the bridges which span the Bosphorus straits between the two sides of Istanbul in northwest Turkey, said Hugh McDowell, the deputy head of BP Exploration.

The project, launched at the end of 2001, forms part of a Turkish policy to increase emphasis on local energy resources. Turkey has gradually decreased its production in recent years.

In the first 11 months of last year only 2.18 million tons of the 24.4 million tons of crude which Turkey processed were produced domestically. Domestic production fell 2.7 percent in the same period from a year earlier. TPAO deputy general manager Mete Gurel said Turkey was continuing exploration work in seven areas of the eastern Black Sea region with partners from Romania, Russia and Georgia.

McDowell said the $24 million cost of the project so far had been paid by BP and that spending on it this year would amount to some $20 million to $30 million. Company officials said it was too early to confirm the size of the oil reserves in the area.