Drill-Rig Shortage May Delay Total’s Caspian Natural-Gas Project

Total SA needs drilling rigs by 2017 to meet its development targets at the Caspian Sea natural-gas field of Absheron, the company’s regional manager said.

Europe’s third-biggest energy company had to stop drilling at the field 100 kilometers (60 miles) off Azerbaijan in September last year because of a shortage of drill rigs amid increasing Caspian exploration.

“It’s a bit of constraint,” Christian Giudicelli, general manager of Total E&P Azerbaijan, said today in Baku, the capital. “The challenge here is that we cannot drill, therefore there is some uncertainty.”

The European Union is looking to Absheron, Shah Deniz and other deposits in the Caspian to ease dependence on Russian supplies, which meet a quarter of European demand. Absheron, discovered in 2011, may contain 300 billion cubic meters of gas and 45 million metric tons of condensate, or light oil, according to State Oil Co. of Azerbaijan, or Socar.

Total is the operator of the project with a 40 percent stake. Socar holds 40 percent and GDF Suez has 20 percent.

Giudicelli said Total would need at least one rig to restart drilling at Absheron in early 2017 and start production at the end of 2020.

“Access to two rigs would be even better,” he said. “We are waiting for rigs to be available for both appraisal and development.”

Absheron is expected to produce 3 billion cubic meters to 5 billion cubic meters of gas a year in the initial phase, he said.

More Rigs

The shortage of drilling rigs in the Caspian led Socar to sign an agreement with Singapore-based Keppel Corp. in June to build a rig. Construction will take three years and cost more than $1 billion, Socar President Rovnaq Abdullayev said at the time. The partners were in talks on a second rig, he said.

German utility RWE AG will also need a rig to start exploration at the Nakhchivan structure in the Caspian while Socar needs more for its own Caspian developments including Umid and Babak.

Giudicelli said Total, which also holds a stake in the BP Plc-led Shah Deniz project, is interested in new offshore developments in Azerbaijan’s section of the Caspian Sea.

“We bring a competence in deepwater exploration and production,” he said. “We are ready to look at any opportunity and made this known to Socar.”