PETROBRAS’ proposed sale of more than 100 onshore concessions spread across five states may be the spark to ignite a new wave of investments in a sector that has long been overlooked in Brazil. The Topaz Project offers 98 producing fields and six exploration blocks in the mature Reconcavo, Potiguar, Espirito Santo and Sergipe basins, which are currently producing about 35,000 barrels per day of oil. The amount represents approximately 20% of the company’s entire onshore production, but less than 2% of its total domestic output. Petrobras estimates the whole area on offer holds 257 million barrels of oil equivalent in proven, probable and possible reserves. However, more than seven months after Petrobras announced to the market its intention to divest such assets, the process has stalled. Petrobras received a first round of non-binding offers in June, selecting a few companies to proceed, but disqualifying those that did not meet all the requirements in the competitive bidding process, which is being co-ordinated by investment bank Itau BBA. Companies have since been waiting on tenterhooks for the unfolding of the sale process, with no sign as to when Petrobras will move forward. “We are worried about the process because we were led to expect that Petrobras would invite companies for a second round of offers in late September. We are almost at the end of October and so far there is nothing,” says a lawyer with one of the potential bidders. The Brazilian Association for Independent Oil & Gas Producers (Abpip), which represents 25 companies that have a combined production of about 3000 bpd from 50 onshore fields, is also patiently waiting for the outcome. “Petrobras is sure taking a lot longer than the market expected to conclude this sale, but we hope this divestment brings more independent and private companies to the Brazilian onshore,” says Abpip executive secretary Anabal Santos Junior. Petrobras has split the 104 concession contracts on offer into 10 different clusters to try to maximise the bidding outcome. These clusters include Fazenda Belem, Riacho da Forquilha and Macau in the Potiguar basin, Buracica and Miranga in the Reconcavo basin, Sao Mateus, Fazenda Sao Jorge-Canca-Fazenda Cedro, Lagoa Parda and Gas Hub in the Espirito Santo basin, and Sirizinho-Riachuelo in the Sergipe basin. It is understood there are at least two or three companies qualified to present offers for each cluster of oilfields. “The assets are extremely attractive to small producers. They are very close to existing infrastructure and present a possibility for the buyer to start generating cash flow almost immediately,” says a source. However, some are expressing concern. Rubens Botteri, director president of Brazilian newcomer Great Oil, says there are still some unanswered questions, such as whether future owners will have to negotiate access to pipelines and other infrastructure. “You have to look at how to make the transport and marketing logistics viable. You need to have someone to sell to, not just Petrobras,” says Botteri. Trading companies such as Shell and Glencore are said to be getting interested in this market, as independently produced volumes become more significant. There is also concern on how long it will take for the entire onshore sale process to be approved by the Brazilian National Petroleum Agency (ANP).
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