Côte d’Ivoire: Why ENI’s discovery is a game-changer for West Africa

By Christophe Le Bec
Posted on Monday, 29 November 2021 17:25

ENI’s CEO Claudio Descalzi and Côte d'Ivoire’s President Alassane Ouattara on 1 October 2021 in Abidjan. © www.eni.it

In 2023, ENI wants to start operating in the baleine offshore field, which it only discovered three months ago. It intends to rely on its experience in Ghana and the good Ivorian infrastructure that already exists.

In early September 2021, the Italian hydrocarbon giant ENI discovered the Baleine offshore field, off Assinie, which is believed to contain 1.5 to 2 billion barrels of crude oil and nearly 2 Tcf (2 trillion cubic feet) of gas. This revelation has propelled Côte d’Ivoire into the big leagues.

The most recent Africa Oil Week, which brought professionals from the sector together in Dubai in early November, proved that there has been a revival of interest in the country’s offshore blocks, of which only 15 have been awarded and 32 are still available (three are under negotiation). This was due to the fact that there was a large turnout at the presentation of the Ivorian delegation, led by minister Thomas Camara.

In previous editions, attendance at the Ivorian showcase had been sparse. The country, considered a ‘frontier’ area, i.e. little explored by oil companies, was of interest to geologists because of its proximity to Ghana, where the major West African discoveries outside Nigeria were made, notably the Jubilee field in 2007.

The presentation by Sergio Laura – ENI’s representative in Abidjan, a seasoned explorer who has been active in the country for five years and has a deep understanding of Ghana’s geology – was the highlight of the various lectures that focused on Côte d’Ivoire’s prospects.

The native of Genoa only had to drill one well in Côte d’Ivoire, on the CI-101 block (360 km²) allocated to ENI, before he discovered the Baleine deposit. He explained the fast-track development strategy, which aims to have the new field in production by mid-2023.

Fluid collaboration

“Two further follow-on drillings are planned, one in 2022 and one in 2023, which could reveal even larger reserves,” he said. According to Laura, ENI’s exploration programme in Côte d’Ivoire was a rapid success because of the smooth collaboration between the General Directorate of Hydrocarbons, an arm of the ministry that regulates the sector, and the national company Petroci, which manages the geological data room.

The Italian hydrocarbon giant plans to rely on Ivorian engineers and technicians’ high level of expertise so that it can rapidly increase the responsibilities of local managers, just like it did in Ghana. In Ghana, the proportion of local managers has risen from 50% to 80% in five years, thanks to accelerated training programmes – in Italy and elsewhere in Africa – and mentoring.

The oil group, which produces some 70,000 barrels per day (bpd) in Ghana, believes it can identify deposits in this West African region better than its competitors, thanks to its proven geological modelling systems. “We are interested in Whale because the project cycle can be very short and have a rapid return on investment for large annual volumes,” says another group executive.

ENI expects to initially produce 15,000 b/d in 2023, then reach a plateau phase of around 110,000 b/d between 2025 and 2026. It also believes that, given the presence of gas and electricity infrastructure in the country, it can resell the relatively small volumes of gas – as well as oil – that Whale churns out at the local level, as soon as it starts operating.

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