ExxonMobil’s Rapidly-Expanding Mediterranean Presence

Exxon had precisely zero upstream interest in the Mediterranean and North Africa as recently as 2016. It last year bagged key deepwater exploration blocks off Cyprus and Mauritania; a Crete award looks imminent and it is eying Algeria and Egypt.

US super major ExxonMobil has made North America, and shale in particular, the key focus of its spending since oil prices tanked in the second half of 2014, the same year that it opted against renewing its stake in the UAE’s Adco concession. The MENA share of its oil output has fallen from 25% in 2013 (545,000 b/d, all from Abu Dhabi and Iraq) to 377,000 b/d, just 16.5% of the total for 2017. US output has soared past MENA to account for 22.5% of the total.

The share accounted for by North Africa and the Mediterranean remained steady. At zero that is. The firm’s only regional interests at the start of the decade were three deepwater blocks off Libya. The firm drilled two dry wells here in 2009 and 2010. It had been considering further drilling but amid prolonged instability after the country’s 2011 revolution it quit the last of the blocks in 2012 ( MEES, 27 April ).

Exxon did go to the trouble of qualifying as an operator for Lebanon’s planned 2013 bid round. But bidding was canned; when the blocks were eventually offered in 2017, Exxon failed to renew its interest ( MEES, 12 May 2017 ).

But as the company tentatively increases capex it is looking to virgin deepwater opportunities to renew its exploration portfolio ( MEES, 9 February ). Guyana and Brazil have been a key focus, but also the Mediterranean.

In March 2017 it bagged a key deepwater block off Cyprus. It plans to drill a highly anticipated wildcat on Block 10 in Q4 this year ( MEES, 4 May ). Exxon (80%) is partnered here by Qatar state oil firm QP (20%), which earlier this week acquired a 30% stake in Exxon’s Argentinian shale operations ( MEES, 8 June ).

Interest in the Cyprus offshore was boosted by Eni’s August 2015 discovery of Egypt’s 21.5tcf Zohr gas field just 6km south of the Cyprus maritime border. Eni made another promising discovery in January of this year, this time in Cypriot waters, a “Zohr-like play” on Block 6 directly north of Block 10 ( MEES, 2 February ).

Next up was Mauritania where Exxon bagged three ultra-deepwater blocks in December last year ( MEES, 8 December 2017 ). The company has no near term drilling plans though Total plans a high-impact wildcat on block C-9 (which adjoins C-17) late this year. Meanwhile a positive FID on BP’s 15tcf Tortue project, also due in Q4, would greatly increase the attractiveness of Exxon’s Block C-14 which lies further offshore from Tortue ( MEES, 27 April ).

Attention now turns to Crete, where Exxon is expected to bag two deepwater blocks in partnership with Total. Award is expected soon.

Algeria and Egypt are two established regional producers where Exxon has been conspicuous by its absence.

But Egypt’s Oil Minister Tariq al-Mulla said last December that Exxon had been in talks to enter the country’s upstream, whilst officials from state gas firm Egas told MEES they expected Exxon to bid in the since-launched bid round for Mediterranean acreage ( MEES, 25 May ).

Algeria has made similar noises. Sonatrach CEO Abdelmoumen Ould Kaddour in February, after meeting with Exxon chiefs in Houston, said the firm was “extremely interested” in setting up shop in Algeria. Sonatrach is seeking cooperation with Exxon on shale gas “and more,” he told Reuters on 24 May. The only deal so far, however, is Sonatrach’s agreement to buy Exxon’s 190,000 b/d Augusta refinery in Sicily ( MEES, 11 May ).

Exxonmobil In The Mediterranean & North Africa

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