More than 9 billion barrels of oil equivalent were discovered last year from high-impact exploration drilling around the world — up from 7.4 billion boe in 2021, according to consultant Westwood Global Energy.

Westwood’s preliminary estimate is than 9.2 billion boe of oil and gas resources were discovered in 2022 and the commercial success rate — the proportion of wells that may result in a potentially commercial development — increased from 29% in 2021 to 36%.

Breakthrough discoveries in the Orange Basin offshore Namibia, at Venus by TotalEnergies and Graff and La Rona by Shell, opened new oil plays with preliminary estimates of potentially more than 3.5 billion boe of discovered oil and gas resources.

After Venus, the second largest discovery in 2022 was made at Uchuva, in the Guijira Basin offshore Colombia, which discovered between 3 trillion and 5 trillion cubic feet of recoverable gas.

Nine potentially commercial discoveries were made in Guyana and one in Suriname, which accounted for around 21% of last year’s total discovered resource.

Westwood noted that frontier exploration drilling activity remained low with only 19 frontier wells completing in 2022, although it delivered an exceptional 26% commercial success rate with five potentially play opening offshore discoveries: Venus and Graff in Namibia, Uchuva in Colombia, Timpan offshore Indonesia and Anchois-2 in Morocco. However, some of these frontier discoveries such as Timpan will need to be appraised to confirm commerciality.

“The commercial success rate in emerging plays increased from 28% in 2021 to 46% in 2022, largely driven by better performance in Suriname-Guyana as the Stabroek joint venture focused drilling in the core of the proven play fairway. Follow-on success in the Cretaceous carbonate play in the Eastern Mediterranean also contributed to emerging play performance with discoveries in Cronos and Zeus, in the Nile Delta, offshore Cyprus,” the consultancy said.

However, the commercial success rate from high-impact drilling in maturing and mature plays decreased from 36% in 2021 to 30% in 2022, with failed attempts to extend the pre-salt play in the Santos and Campos basins offshore Brazil, failures in the South Caspian and no success from the four high-impact wells drilled in northwest Europe.

Explorers taking ‘a measured view’

Global high-impact exploration activity in 2023 is expected to be on a similar level to last year as 2022’s higher oil prices have not translated to more exploration, according to Westwood.

“The Ukraine conflict and high and volatile oil and gas prices have seen energy politics shift in the short term from the environment and energy transition to a focus on affordability and security. Global explorers, meanwhile, are taking a measured view and holding budgets and activity steady while trying to improve overall exploration efficiency,” the consultancy explained.

Westwood believes 75 to 85 high-impact wells are expected to be completed this year versus the 81 that were completed in 2022.

South America will continue to be a key region for high-impact exploration, particularly in the Suriname-Guyana basin and offshore Brazil, while Argentina will see its first deep-water well drilled in 2023.

Meanwhile, activity in North America is expected to rebound this year following a quiet 2022, which saw only nine high-impact wells completed.

“This will include more than five high-impact wells in the US Gulf of Mexico, further commitment wells offshore Mexico and a key frontier basin test in the Orphan basin offshore Canada,” Westwood said.

Africa is also an area of focus with wells expected in the emerging Orange basin offshore Namibia, as well as frontier tests offshore Morocco, Gabon and Mozambique.

“The Eastern Mediterranean has also seen a recent up-tick in high-impact exploration drilling, which will continue into 2023 with around five high-impact wells expected.”

However, high-impact drilling activity in Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific is expected to fall slightly in 2023 compared with the previous year.

Regional targets

Some of the key wildcats to watch in the Asia Pacific region are Petronas’ Layang-Layang and the Shell-operated Pekaka deep-water wells offshore Sabah, East Malaysia; and the Honeybadger/Stork and Beehive probes offshore Australia.

Petronas’ Malaysia Petroleum Management earlier described the Pekaka prospect on Block 2W as “outstanding” and as being “the spitting image of the Tepat oil and gas discovery in deep-water Block M”.

Never miss a must-read story
Get notified when we publish articles from your selected sectors, businesses or journalists.