OPINION: Amid the gloom of a steep oil industry downturn and the Covid-19 pandemic, Myanmar is providing some succour to the beleaguered exploration sector, with a tantalising array of drilling plans stacking up.

Australia’s Woodside Petroleum has plans for a three-well exploration and appraisal campaign that is scheduled to start in the first quarter of next year.

Woodside and partners Shell and Myanmar Petroleum Exploration & Production are expected to drill a commitment exploration well on Block A-7, where they made the Dhana Hlaing non-commercial gas discovery in 2018.

Also on the cards are two wells on blocks AD-1 and AD-8, which Woodside and China National Petroleum Corporation hold as 50:50 partners.

Two years ago, the duo made the Aung Siddhi deep-water gas discovery on Block AD-1.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Posco International also has its eye on drilling off Myanmar in 2021 — starting as soon as April.

Posco’s plans envisage an appraisal well of the Mahar gas discovery on Block A-3 that was announced earlier this year, and which has preliminary estimated contingent resources of 660 billion cubic feet of gas.

Other exploration prospects on Block A-3 that could be drilled in this upcoming campaign include Kissapanadi, Mahar West and Yan Aung Myin.

Success here would offer Posco and its co-venturers the opportunity of tying in new fields to the existing nearby Shwe production facilities.

These drilling programmes will be welcome news to Myanmar’s upstream sector, which had been on a roll until a few years ago, when there was a mass relinquishment of acreage awarded from the 2013 offshore licensing round.

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Some of these blocks that had attracted global heavyweights and independents alike were let go without any drilling taking place.

The government subsequently moved to improve the profit-sharing terms and removed a stipulation from the 2013 licensing round that shallow-water blocks have to include at least one local partner.

However, bureaucratic delays and the coronavirus pandemic scuppered the next bid round.

Should Woodside or Posco taste any drilling success, it could be a catalyst to tempt other international players to sample the hydrocarbons potential of Myanmar’s underexplored waters.

(This is an Upstream opinion article.)