Cablegate: Brazil's Chief Petroleum Regulator Inadvertantly Confirms Rumors of Mega Oil Field in Santos Basin

DE RUEHRI #0091/01 1061916
R 151916Z APR 08








B) 07 SAO PAULO 0953
Sensitive but unclassified, please protect accordingly.

1. (SBU) Summary. Brazil National Petroleum Agency (ANP) Director Haroldo Lima is under fire and, some speculate, may lose his job for confirming what petroleum industry insiders have believed for some time -- that, at a depth of around 4000 meters in the Santos Basin off the coast of Sao Paulo, Brazil potentially has a mega oil field estimated to contain between 30-40 billion barrels of oil. If these reserves are confirmed, Brazil could jump into the top 10 oil countries by reserves, surpassing nations such as Nigeria and Libya. Though the possibilities have generated a great deal of excitement, industry observers caution that the technological challenges involved are extensive and expensive to overcome, meaning that any developments will, at the very least, be slow in coming. In light of the potential gains, there are signs that GOB is looking for ways to maximize the government share of these historic finds and to allow Petrobras to position itself to be the leading developer in the new fields. End Summary.

Making News and Moving the Markets ----------------------------------

2. (U) Speaking as part of a seminar panel on April 14, ANP Director Haroldo Lima announced that Brazilian state oil company Petrobras is sitting on the world's biggest oil discovery in 30 years. ANP quickly released a statement distancing itself from Lima's remarks, saying that he had been speaking outside of his official capacity. Brazilian semi-publi c state oil company Petrobras declined to confirm the estimate, saying only that studies on the find are still underway. Still, shares of Petrobras closed up 6 percent on the day.

3. (U) According to Lima, Petrobras, which operates the BM-S-9 block ("Carioca"), has a significant stake in a massive sub-salt structure that could contain more than 33 billion barrels of oil equivalent and is estimated to be five times the size of the recently announced, large Tupi discovery (5-8 billion barrels)(ref B). He went on to comment that Carioca has the potential to be the third biggest active field in the world. Brazil's Securities and Exchange Commission harshly criticized Lima, saying that he should have known the effect his comments would have on the stock market. In the near-term, ANP and Lima will focus their energies on damage control but Lima could very well be fired over this slip-up within the next few days.

4. (U) Lima, 67, is an electrical engineer from the state of Bahia. B efore being named Director of ANP in 2005, Lima was a five-term federal deputy in the Brazilian Congress. He is a member of Communist Party of Brazil (PCdoB), which supports the Lula Administration. Though Lima did not come to ANP with a strong background in petroleum, industry generally gives a positive assessment of his performance as Director. Under Lima, ANP has held four bidding rounds for oil and natural gas exploration and production blocks. Lima understands that regular and transparent bidding rounds are fundamental to maintaining international investment in the petroleum and gas industry. In a recent interview in ISTOE Magazine, Lima called for the creation of a 100% state-owned company to receive all the oil extracted from Brazil and partners would receive monetary payments.

How Much Oil Are We Talking About? -----------------------------------

5. (SBU) For years, industry insiders have conjectured that there might be a lot more oil at deeper geological intervals t han those where Petrobras, Shell and Devon produce today in Brazil. Talk of "another Campos Basin below the Campos Basin" and large potential in Santos Basin has been circulating through the oil community for a while. In 2005, Petrobras began drilling the Parati well in the Santos Basin, the first well to reach hydrocarbon-bearing reservoirs below a 2 mile-thick layer of salt. The well was the most expensive ever in the country, but it was key as it confirmed that there was indeed oil below the salt that might be put into production. Since then, Petrobras drilled three other wells in the area (along with four others in different areas off of Brazil's coast) and all found relatively light oil (28-30 API) below the salt. The Tupi announcement in November 2007 was the crowning event of a long process.

6. (SBU) However, industry insiders never considered Tupi as the largest structure in the region. With the latest technology available, subsurface maps of what the area below the salt layer might look like have indicated that it is only the smaller of two relatively large "hills" under the salt. If oil bearing, the larger RIO DE JAN 00000091 002 OF 003 structure might hold a quantity of oil estimated to be between 30-40 billion barrels. Located to the south of Tupi, the larger structure has yet to be given a public name but is being referred to by the industry as "Sugarloaf."

7. (SBU) Petrobras tested one well in the Sugarloaf structure last year in the BM-S-9 block (Carioca) and is still drilling another. It operates the block in partnership with BG Group (30%) and Repsol (25%). In an official release, Petrobras stated that the second well has not yet reached the sub-salt level. In the absence of more conclusive data on the block's potential, Petrobras is remaining tight-lipped. Through its work in Brazil and in Mexico's deep-water reserves, Petrobras has developed expertise and a reputation as a leader in cutting edge deepwater drilling technology.

8. (SBU) While Petrobras is getting the majority of the press play right now, it should be noted that other companies are also well positioned should a discovery at Sugarloaf be confirmed. The BM-S-22 block, just south of Petrobras' Carioca block, is thought to be the apex of the structure and is operated by Exxon (40%) in partnership with Hess (40%) and Petrobras (20%). Galp, BG, and Shell also have minority stakes in neighboring blocks. Exxon Brazil President John Knapp told Mission Brazil officers that the industry as a whole is extremely excited about pre-salt opportunities in Brazil, but cautioned that the government and press euphoria does not sufficiently take into account the serious technological and financial challenges of drilling so deep. Knapp also expressed some concern that, in this euphoria, the GOB may be tempted to change its current concession model which industry views as fair, transparent, and effective in order to allow the GOB and Petrobras to take ma ximum advantage of the finds, possibly at the expense of the international oil community.

Next Steps for the Government of Brazil ---------------------------------------

9. (SBU) As previously reported (Ref A), the Government of Brazil withdrew 41 prime blocks in the Santos Basin from auction shortly after the Tupi announcement in November 2007. Pending a determination of how to best develop the Santos Basin pre-salt reserves and capture the most revenue, no further bidding will take place. This has international industry concerned since, in the absence of new exploration opportunities, they could be forced to leave Brazil. ANP has formed a task force and contracted international consulting firm Wood MacKenzie to study how other countries handle such contracts. ANP has also expressed interest in sending a delegation to the U.S. to study how the USG handles contracts in the Gulf of Mexico and in Alaska.

10. (SBU) While Petrobras CEO Sergio Gabrielli has made public comments t hat Brazil should look into amending its Petroleum Law, industry insiders and academic experts agree that the most likely outcome is for Brazil to maintain its current concessions arrangement and increase the government's take, or "special participation rate" (maybe to as high as 80 percent). There is likely not enough support within the Congress to support such a new Petroleum Law, and little confidence in Congress' ability to come up with a palatable new framework. The benefit of increasing the special participation rate is that it can be achieved by Presidential Decree.

11. (SBU) Petrobras would also likely oppose any change towards a production sharing or service contract regime. It appears as though Gabrielli's strategy is to stall the auction process for a few years so that Petrobras can be better positioned, financially, to bid competitively on the prime blocks. As it is, Petrobras is confronting serious resource constraints on Tupi, and getting Sugarloaf into product ion may be beyond its current capabilities. There is a worldwide shortage of geologists, engineers and equipment, and the depth of these discoveries (2000 plus meters of water and up to two miles of salt) would require the most advanced (and most expensive) drilling technology on the market. (Note: There are only a few drills capable of drilling at such depths. Per ref B, two of these have been reserved to begin work at Tupi in 2009. End Note.)

12. (SBU) Supported by key players within the Brazilian government, such as Presidential Chief of Staff and Chairman of Petrobras' Board of Directors Dilma Rousseff, Petrobras is shifting resources to develop Tupi as quickly as possible. The government views the new sub-salt discoveries as a good source of future political leverage, and is about to embark on a US$50 million publicity campaign to spread the news about Brazil's apparent new oil riches. If Dilma Rousseff indeed runs for the presidency in 20 10, it is possible that these oil and gas developments combined with the government's large-scale planned infrastructure projects could boost her profile as a candidate.

Comment -------

13. (SBU) The potential discovery of additional oil deposits in the Santos Basin is certainly good news for Brazil. Unfortunately, the bad news is that there is insufficient drilling equipment to bring these resources on line quickly and there remain significant technological hurdles to drilling in such extreme conditions. If the best estimates have the Tupi field producing no sooner than 2013 even with the full support of Petrobras and the rest of the GOB, developing "Sugarloaf" may indeed take some time. Undoubtedly, however, these discoveries have the potential to make Brazil a player in international energy markets and may have an impact on Venezuela's role for the region as well. The GOB's decisions on how to develop the area will have further impact on U.S. companies' ability to partici pate in these exciting new finds. End Comment. 12. (U) This message was cleared/coordinated with Embassy Brasilia.


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