Perhaps the most closely watched exploration well of the New Year is about to begin an arduous six-mile journey that if completed would rank it among the deepest wells ever drilled on Planet Earth.
Owners of the Blackbeard prospect, situated in the relatively shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico’s continental shelf, have finally selected a date and location to launch drilling: Jan. 15 on South Timbalier block 168.
“We’d love to see it work,” quipped Steve Campbell, head of investor relations for Blackbeard partner Newfield Exploration.
The Blackbeard well is a true frontier venture, headed to the 32,000-foot level and perhaps beyond in search of what some explorers believe could harbor giant reserves containing trillions of cubic feet of natural gas. Geologic structures that make up this “ultra-deep” play on the Gulf’s continental shelf are said to be as large as the state of California.
However, the curious will have to wait a spell for Blackbeard’s results. “The well will take nine months to a year to drill,” Campbell said.
Rowan will drill with jack-upRowan, which has drilled two-thirds of all deep wells below 18,000 feet on the continental shelf, was selected for the Blackbeard project.
The company plans to use its newest rig, the Tarzan jack-up class Scooter Yeargain, and stands to reap $28 million to as much as $35 million for the job, depending on how long the rig is employed.
The super powerful Scooter Yeargain was designed specifically to withstand the “high pressure, high temperature” environment associated with deep drilling, said Danny McNease, Rowan’s chairman and chief executive officer.
Blackbeard would be one of the few exploration wells to penetrate the so-called “ultra-deep” zone below 25,000 feet on the Gulf’s continental shelf. Shell was the first with its Shark wildcat, which turned out to be a dry hole. The major is said to be currently drilling a 26,000-foot well on its Joseph prospect offshore East Texas.
Newfield, an independent exploration and production company based in Houston, had tried for several years to find a partner willing to absorb the full cost of drilling an ultra-deep well on its Treasure Island property, which houses the Blackbeard prospect. The company hit the jackpot in April 2004 when it signed on majors ExxonMobil and BP and Brazil state-owned oil company Petrobras.
ExxonMobil is serving as operator of the huge Blackbeard prospect, which actually covers multiple blocks in both the South Timbalier and Ship Shoal areas offshore Louisiana. Under terms of the deal, Newfield retains a 23 percent carried working interest in Blackbeard and will not have to spend a dime on the exploration well.
Newfield also signed a letter of intent with Petrobras to drill one firm exploration well with an option to drill a second well to earn a 30 percent interest in all of Newfield’s 27 Treasure Bay leases.
Newfield also has a stake in 60 blocks associated with the nearby Treasure Bay project, another area on the Gulf’s continental shelf thought to have ultra-deep potential.