Technology makes the pre-salt the world’s leading oil frontier

September 17, 2018

RIO – Twelve years after its discovery, Brazilian pre-salt has become the most attractive oil frontier in the world. The reduction of costs provided by the technological advances made by the industry in the country and the high rates of productivity of the fields made the area in the Santos and Campos Basins more competitive than the popular shale gas and tight oil –  unconventional source of the United States – that came to be seen as a revolution of global impact.


According to experts, production in the pre-salt is economically viable even if the price of oil drops to $ 35. Today, the price of the barrel is around $ 78 in the international market.


In the case of unconventional oil in the US, it is only worth the price of oil at $ 66, according to Ryad Energy. Production from Canada’s tar sands, another area considered a new global oil frontier, only pays off at $ 63 a barrel.


According to consultants, the pre-salt will attract even more attention from oil companies around the world. The expectation is that the auction of the surplus of the onerous assignment (agreement by which Petrobras acquired, in 2010, the right to explore 5 billion barrels in a pre-salt area that proved to be of greater potential), scheduled for 2019, is estimated at at least US $ 25 billion (about R $ 100 billion).


It was precisely the increasing attractiveness of the pre-salt that led to billion-dollar deals from companies such as Exxon, Shell, Equinor and Petrobras in the last auctions. On the 28th, the 5th round of the pre-salt will be held, with four blocks on sale.




At 7,000 meters deep,  the pre-salt already accounts for 55% of total production in the country, with 1.82 million barrels a day of oil and gas, according to the National Petroleum Agency (ANP). A well in the Mero field, in the Libra (Santos Basin) area, is already the world’s largest producer at sea, with the extraction of 38,800 barrels per day of oil. The high productivity per well in the pre-salt, whose average is around 30 thousand barrels per day, surpasses that of other areas of maritime exploration. It is four times larger than in the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea in Europe.


According to economist Edmar Almeida, from the Energy Economics Group of the UFRJ Institute of Economics, the pre-salt is now the most important oil region in the world. The high productivity of the wells and the strong reduction of costs that has been obtained in recent years are making their exploration increasingly competitive:


– The pre-salt has been benefited by the development of several projects in sequence, which optimizes the systems. Another point of reduction of costs is the standardization of the projects adopted by Petrobras, allowing greater gains.


According to Almeida, if Brazil had not stayed five years (from 2008 to 2013) without auctions in the pre-salt areas, during which the regulation of its exploitation was discussed, production could be even higher now, generating more jobs and raising in a moment of crisis.


– We have spent five years discussing the new oil law that introduced the sharing agreement and created restrictions on private participation in the pre-salt. If there had been an auction in 2010, we would have attracted a lot of investment as the price of oil was higher (at $ 100 per barrel).


Subsequently, Petrobras’ financial crisis – in the midst of the corruption accusations revealed by Lava-Jato, which led the company to a billion dollar write off – also delayed the exploration of the first pre-salt areas.


Today, technological innovation is a factor that helps the country earn more by extracting each barrel. Magda Chambriard, a consultant at the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV) and former director general of the ANP, cites the drilling time of a well, which went from a year and a half to just three months. It is a strong cost reduction, since the daily rate of an exploration rig costs about $ 350,000 per day.


– This is a result of the use of new technologies and the learning curve. We have made technological advances in several areas, from seismic to engineering on a platform. The areas are even larger than previously thought. In the onerous assignment, there was an expectation of 7.5 billion barrels. It’s twice as big today, “Magda says.




As a way of raising productivity and earnings, Petrobras, which suffers from high indebtedness, has initiated a series of changes in its contracting policy, such as renegotiation of contracts with suppliers, standardization of projects and orders in series to gain in scale.


– Factories that received an order each year are ordering 100 compressors and 40 turbines. This allows gain in scale and development in Brazil. There is a factory in the country that is a world reference in gas compressors and power generation turbines – says Claudio Makarovsky, president of Abespetro, which brings together service providers.


Makarovsky notes that the cost of extracting oil from the seabed pre-salt is around $ 7 per barrel, below the world average of $ 10.8 to $ 11 per barrel. It highlights the weight of the digitization in the production systems for the pre-salt to be considered a product of “low cost” by the global oil industry.


“The key word is technology. The industry was called upon to use creativity. The cost to drill a well fell from $ 100 million to $ 40 million, or 60 percent, “he says.


Another front of productivity increase was the development of different specialization courses to improve human capital. Only Senai has formed in the last five years about 18 thousand people in diverse activities of the petroleum sector.


– There are courses, for example, in underwater technologies. A worldwide company is developing solutions in Brazil to apply worldwide. We have 26 institutes of innovation and research in the country – emphasizes Rafael Lucchesi, director general of Senai.


Source: The Globo

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