Newfoundland & Labrador set for drilling

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(Upstream) The Canadian province of Newfoundland & Labrador is preparing for an increase in exploration drilling activity on recently awarded acreage that is set to begin this summer by ExxonMobil, followed next year by drilling campaigns from up to three operators, writes Mark Hillier.

Jim Keating, chief executive of Newfoundland provincial oil company Nalcor — which also has a role in promoting the province’s upstream activity — said this week that the Seadrill semi-submersible West Aquarius is currently located at the province’s Bull Arm facility, where it has been undergoing maintenance and preparatory work before going out to drill for the US oil giant.

ExxonMobil is set to kick off its campaign with a wildcat on exploration licence 1135, which it secured in a provincial licensing round in 2014.

The supermajor bid C$559 million (US$415 million today) in partnership with ConocoPhillips and Suncor Energy for the Flemish Pass acreage, which it was formally awarded in early 2015. It is located about 50 kilometres to the south of Equinor’s planned Bay du Nord development.

In addition to ExxonMobil’s plans, UK supermajor BP, Norway’s Equinor and China’s CNOOC International are all working towards drilling campaigns that could begin in 2020, Keating added.

BP has been working for some time on plans to drill exploration wells on the four licences it operates in the Orphan basin — ELs 1145, 1146, 1148 and 1149.

The company has not gone public on which prospect it will drill first on its Newfoundland acreage, but explorers have long been keen to see how the UK operator will get on at its potentially huge Cape Freels prospect on EL 1145.

Equinor, for its part, has been working on plans for more exploration in the Flemish Pass, where any fresh discoveries will be particularly welcome as it plans for the development of its Bay du Nord discovery, which is currently looking to exploit some 300 million barrels of oil.

Equinor last month received formal environmental approval from Canada for its latest exploration plan, which could see wells drilled on ELs 1139, 1140, 1141, and 1142.

Meanwhile, CNOOC International (formerly Nexen) is working on plans for an exploration drilling campaign on ELs 1144 and 1150, which are also in the Flemish Pass.