Rig players set for '$17bn drilling feast' off Africa

Bright prospects: for African drilling market

The potential of West Africa’s emerging pre-salt play and big gas discoveries off East Africa are set to drive an 18% leap in annual drilling expenditure to more than $17 billion across the wider region over the next five years, according to a business intelligence firm.

The forecast from New York-based GBI Research, up from drilling spending of $13.56 billion in 2012, is based on expectations of higher exploration activity across Africa and the Middle East.

Rig contractors, particularly those like Seadrill and Ensco operating modern units designed for Africa’s deep-water plays, are set to cash in on the prospecting surge with GBI estimating cumulative drilling expenditure of $77.3 billion over the period from 2012 to 2016 – up 22% on $63.5 billion from the previous five years.

West Africa is leading the way as players such as Statoil and Total target regional pre-salt plays after being awarded acreage off Angola where seismic is being carried out to identify drilling targets.

However, GBI believes Ghana will emerge as a new hotspot for oil and gas exploration in the region after seeing 16 offshore discoveries between 2008 and 2012 – including Tullow Oil’s landmark Jubilee find - compared with 22 off Angola during the same period.

It also expects relative newcomers to offshore exploration such as Sierra Leone and Liberia to figure more prominently on the radar screens of oil companies as drilling activity escalates.

Nonetheless, it is off Angola where the really big bucks are likely to be earned on dayrates for deep-water rigs, which are currently around the $600,000 mark and expected to reach a record $700,000 in the not too distant future.

GBI predicts drilling spending off the country will hit $6.67 billion in 2016, with Nigeria and Egypt some way behind with $2.26 billion and $1.52 billion respectively.

Meanwhile, recent major gas discoveries off East Africa by Anadarko Petroleum, Eni and Statoil, among others, have also significantly raised the region’s prospectivity, making it a major destination for explorers.

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