TotalEnergies has kicked off a major, delayed drilling campaign on its Egina field offshore Nigeria in a bid to avert a further precipitous collapse in output at the country’s most important oilfield.

Between January and December 2022, oil production from Egina plunged 28% from about 151,000 barrels per day to almost 109,000 bpd, according to data from the Nigerian government.

At the end of last year, Egina remained Nigeria’s biggest oil producer, but was very close to being surpassed by Shell’s Bonga field.

TotalEnergies wanted to start this critical development drilling campaign in 2022, but its chosen rig could not be secured, so a replacement had to be found, a process that took longer than planned, according to Keith Hill, chief executive of Egina partner Africa Oil.

However, drillship Noble Gerry da Souza arrived at Egina in the deep-water OML 130 block to start the campaign in earnest on 12 February, according to marine intelligence provider VesselsValue.

This is despite a Nigerian contractor threatening to have the Noble-owned rig seized as part of an ongoing court case in Lagos.

Hill said the primary goal is to drill nine development wells, focusing on “untapped fault blocks” at Egina in order to “shore up” output which plunged during 2022 because no development wells were being drilled.

“You do need to take care of these fields,” Hill said, “so one thing we will be doing is spending a fair amount of time and money investing.”

OML 130 also hosts the Akpo field which has fared better in terms of production, with its output edging down slightly over the course of last year from about 85,000 bpd to 80,000 bpd.

The huge impact timely development drilling can have on a field’s output is epitomised at Bonga where Valaris’ drillship Ensco DS-10 has been operating since April 2022.

In January last year, Bonga was averaging more than 111,000 bpd, but this had fallen to about 96,000 bpd at the time the drillship arrived in April.

By December, however, as more wells were drilled, output had increased by 8000 bpd.

Speaking in November about OML 130, Hill also stressed that up to two exploration and appraisal wells will be drilled, highlighting the existence of a number of “good targets” around the Akpo and Egina floating production, storage and offloading vessels.

Key prospects include Akpo Deep, Akpo West, Egina Ridge and Egina South.

Any fresh discoveries will be developed as subsea satellites to one of the two FPSOs.

Hill also talked about the long-delayed 65,000-bpd Preowei project, a major subsea tieback to Egina which is “ready to go” once a licence extension has been granted.

“We’ve done a development; we’ve done all the engineering studies, and we’re ready to pull the trigger. Once we’ve pulled the trigger, you’re talking about two to two-and-a-half years to first production.”

Africa Oil has an 8% stake in OML 130 through owning half the shares of a company called Prime Oil & Gas, with BTG Actual controlling the remaining interest.

TotalEnergies has a 24% working interest in the acreage, with CNOOC Ltd on 45% and local player South Atlantic Petroleum on 15%.