Cablegate: Azerbaijan Income Takes a Hit As No Short-Term Fix
PP RUEHAG RUEHROV
DE RUEHKB #0919/01 2701135
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 261135Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAKU
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0068
INFO RUCNCIS/CIS COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES PRIORITY
RHMFISS/CDR USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEBAAA/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/WHITE HOUSE WASHDC PRIORITY
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 BAKU 000919
EO 12958 DECL: 08/25/2018
TAGS PGOV, PREL, AJ, ENRG
SUBJECT: AZERBAIJAN INCOME TAKES A HIT AS NO SHORT-TERM FIX
LIKELY FOR ACG PRODUCTION PROBLEMS
REF: A. A) BAKU 897 B. B) BAKU 883
Classified By: Ambassador Anne E. Derse, Reasons 1.4 (b,d)
1. (C) SUMMARY. As Operator BP continues to look for the cause of the gas leak in its offshore ACG oil mega-field that has resulted in slashed oil production (reftels), possibilities center on either a failure in one of the wells or damage in the underlying geologic formation. A quick fix is unlikely in either scenario, meaning that at least for the short-term, GOAJ revenues from the ACG field, its major hard currency earner, will be seriously decreased. At least some ACG partners are not pleased with BP’s handling of this incident, and GOAJ displeasure with BP will certainly increase if it turns out that the gas leak was due to operator error. END SUMMARY.
CHAIN OF EVENTS
2. (C) ACG Operator BP has been exceptionally circumspect in disseminating information about the ACG gas leak, both to the public and to its ACG partners. However, after talking with BP and other sources, Embassy has pieced together the following picture:
- On September 17 bubbles appeared in the waters around the Central Azeri (CA) Platform, one of the major platforms in Azerbaijan’s offshore ACG oil mega-field and the platform’s gas detector alarm went off, signaling the presence of abnormally high levels of gas in the water around the platform (reftel).
- Shortly thereafter, a related gas-reinjection well (B-17) for Central Azeri had a blowout, expelling water, mud and gas.
- The BP Offshore Installation Manager decided to evacuate the platform, sounding the “muster” alarm at 0900 hours, evacuating the 211 workers on the CA Platform.
- BP then shut in production at the Central Azeri field and the Eastern Azeri field. Shortly thereafter production from the Western Azeri field was also shut down for putatively unrelated reasons (problems with a generator), with an overall decrease in daily production from approximately 900,000 to 250,000 bpd (overall ACG production has subsequently increased to 300,000 bpd).
- There have been no visible signs of gas noted on the water’s surface since September 19 (which does not mean gas is no longer flowing). However, the ROV has noted small holes and bubbling on the seabed floor.
3. (C) According to Embassy interlocutors, there are three possible causes for this leak (in order of increasing severity and longer times needed to fix):
- Leak in a Gas Flowline: this was the least likely cause (and the easiest to fix), since a flowline pressure drop would have been detected. BP has subsequently ruled out flowline problems as the source.
- Well Failure: Simply put, this is operator error, most likely a bad cement job around a well, or a split casing, causing a gas leak. The fact that surface bubbling was no longer noticed shortly after well production was shut down indicates that well failure might be the cause. If this is the cause, repair could take weeks or months, and one or some wells would have to be plugged in and subsequently re-drilled.
- Formation Damage: A geologic event in the sub-seafloor around the platform, to include a sea breach of the oil/gas formation (possibly due to the operator’s failure to maintain formation pressure above the ‘bubble point,’ which would allow the gas trapped in the oil to change from liquid to gaseous form, and thus permeate the overlying rock formation), or fracturing of faulting of the undersea formation. Shallow gas (i.e. gas under the subsea floor but above the geologic formation) and/or a mud volcano could also be causes, although according to existing data the nearest
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known mud volcano is 1.5 kilometers away from the CA Platform. If formation damage is the leak’s cause, the length of time needed to fix the problem, if indeed it can be fixed, will be substantial.
4. (C) BP’s have pursued a multiprong strategy of data acquisition to determine the gas leak’s cause, to include:
- Review of existing well data, to include the cement logs (for when the cement around the well casings was poured, to see if a faulty cement job is the cause)
-Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) surveys: BP has done and will continue to conduct underwater ROV surveys around Central Azeri.
- Reboard of CA Platform: Experts from Boots and Coots will seek to re-board the CA Platform on September 27 to, inter alia, take gas samples (biogenic gas would indicate a shallow gas source, i.e. gas from just the under subsea floor but above the formation; formation gas would indicate formation damage). Subsequent platform re-boards for investigative purposes will continue consist with safety procedures.
- Side-scan sonar, measuring up to 50 meters below the sea floor, to detect the possible presence of shallow gas.
SHALLOW SEISMIC SURVEY?
5. (C) If BP is not able to determine the cause by the above methods, it will have to conduct a shallow seismic survey, which measures up to one thousand meters below the sea floor, and the undertaking of which is, in the words of one source “a big deal.” . (Comment: The geologic formation under CA is six to eleven thousand feet below the sea floor). Conducting this survey and processing the data would take at minimum until early November.
6. (C) Current ACG production has plummeted from 900,000 bpd to 300,000 bpd. BP has said that the West Azeri Platform, currently shut down due to problems with its electrical generator, will be producing again on November 1, adding another 100,000 bpd to the existing 300,000 bpd. Consequently at least some ACG partners are being forced to seriously revise downwards production estimates for (at least) the remaining months of 2008, with no one currently having any clear idea as to how long this decreased production will continue.
7. (C) BP has told Embassy that it is keeping SOCAR informed as to its findings, and that SOCAR is seeking to “plug in” its own experts with those in BP working the issue. SOCAR Marketing VP Elshad Nasirov told EnergyOff on September 25 that SOCAR was concerned about delivery disruptions. There is an approximate one month lag time between arranging for the sale of oil at Ceyhan and the arrival of the vessel to pick up the oil, meaning that there are vessels steaming towards Ceyhan now to pick up oil that SOCAR (who is currently responsible for marketing 80 percent of the ACG gas) cannot deliver. SOCAR is concerned about the demurrage fines and the penalties to be charged by buyers and refineries. Nasirov said that it was his understanding that SOCAR can declare force majeure only if the cause were a natural one (such as an underwater mud volcano); if the problem resulted from ACG Operator error (such as BP erring when pouring concrete around the well), he didn’t think that SOCAR would be able to declare force majeure.
8. (C) When asked to hazard a guess as to how much money the GOAJ was losing as a result of this incident, knowledgeable Embassy interlocutors have estimated approximately USD 45 million each day (600,000 barrels per day at approximately USD 100 per barrel equals 60 million, minus Capex/Opex, times 0.80 percent, since the GOAJ gets 80 percent of the profit oil).
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9. (C) The ACG field is the GOAJ’s main revenue-earner, and it is likely that this event is going to seriously impact its income stream in (at best) the short-term. Additionally, President Aliyev is likely to see this as the latest in a series of disappointments from BP, at a time when he is seeking to develop ACG Deep Gas and other Azerbaijan hydrocarbon assets. At least some of BP’s ACG partners are similarly upset with BP’s performance in this episode, as they claim BP has sought to limit information flow about this event even to its ACG partners. Although it is too early to ascertain the cause, if in fact this production shut-down was due to BP technical error, and if it continues for months (as seems possible), BP’s reputation in Azerbaijan will take a serious hit. There have been no indications that the problems were caused by anything other than operator error or a geological problem. DERSE