State-owned Ecopetrol SA is preparing to drill the Orca Norte-1 delimiting well in fourth-quarter 2023 to verify the hydrocarbon potential of an early discovery at the Orca-1 well.

Ecopetrol must drill Orca Norte-1 before March 2024 in accordance with a commitment made with Colombia’s National Hydrocarbons Agency (ANH by its Spanish acronym), the company said in an Aug. 14 press release.

The Bogota-based energy giant said Orca Norte-1, part of the deep water Tayrona Block located in Colombia’s Caribbean region, will be the first deepwater well that it will operate directly.

Originally, Ecopetrol announced the Orca-1 discovery in December 2014. The well, located 40 km north from the coast of Colombia’s Guajira province, confirmed the hydrocarbon potential of an offshore frontier basin and demonstrated the capacity of the petroleum system in the deep portion of the basin, Ecopetrol said in a release at the time.

“This milestone is highly relevant in the effective and efficient search for gas,” Ecopetrol president Ricardo Roa said in the release. “We are still interested in developing reserves that leverage the acceleration that we must give to the energy transition in the country.”

Noble Discoverer Drilling Rig Lined Up

Ecopetrol, Colombia’s largest oil and gas producer, is faced with a daunting task to boost reserves and production amid a present-day scenario in which both could run out in 7.2 years and 7.5 years respectively, according to ANH data.

As part of Ecopetrol’s net zero ambitions, the company sees its efforts offshore potentially boosting its natural gas production to represent 30% of its total production in about seven years, by about 2030, compared to around 22% today.

Ecopetrol has already signed a contract with Noble Corp. for the Noble Discoverer drilling rig for about two-and-a-half months starting in mid-November 2023. The Noble Discoverer is a sixth generation, twin rig, semi-submersible mobile drilling rig currently operating in South America, Ecopetrol said.

Ecopetrol said that if hydrocarbons are confirmed at Orca Norte-1 the company could potentially move forward with a development phase to transport the hydrocarbons to the Colombian mainland. The company has already commenced consulted with local communities as part of a process that could allow for the laying and operation of a gas pipeline that would span from Orca to the Chuchupa B platform, it said in the release.