Turkey has estimated that the Black Sea holds recoverable reserves of 10 Bbbl of crude oil and 2 Tcm (70.6 Tcf) of natural gas and operators are making progress, slow some might say, toward exploiting this potential that a few years ago was touted by some analysts as the “new North Sea.”

Apart from Russia, all the other littoral countries of the Black Sea—Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia—have traditionally been dependent on energy imports. Stepping up exploration and development activity in the region could go some way toward easing this burden.

Romanian Wells

One company looking to push ahead is Black Sea Oil & Gas (BSOG), which along with its partners, has just awarded GSP Offshore a contract to drill two exploration wells in the XV Midia Shallow Block in the Romanian sector of the Black Sea.

The cantilever-type jackup drilling rig, GSP Uranus, has been contracted by BSOG to drill the two wells in water depths up to 100 m (328 ft). Drilling is scheduled to start in fourth-quarter 2017. Auxiliary services such as aviation, logistics and offshore service vessels to support drilling operations have also been contracted with GSP, BSOG said.

“The Midia Block concession holders are targeting prospects that not only could add to the resource base of the concession holders but, more importantly, could feed the Midia gas development project currently consisting of the Ana and Doina discoveries that is currently heading toward development approval,” BSOG CEO Mark Beacom said.

BSOG is obtaining approvals required to develop the Midia project. The partners are hopeful of obtaining these approvals in 2017.

“Once this has been achieved then it will take a further two years to build the offshore platform, drill the development wells, lay the offshore and onshore pipelines and construct the gas treatment plant,” BSOG noted.

In November 2016, BSOG and its co-venturers handed Xodus Group a FEED contract for the offshore and onshore facilities of the Ana and Doina gas discoveries on the XV Midia Shallow Block.

At the time, Beacom said “with this award we take a major step forward in delivering this offshore gas development in Romania’s Black Sea with expectations that we will reach a final investment decision in 2017.”

The offshore FEED services include engineering and design for the Midia gas development, which consists of:

  • A wellhead platform at Ana in a water depth of about 70 m (228 ft), receiving and supporting production from a subsea tieback from the Doina subsea well controlled through umbilicals; and
  • Infield pipeline from the Doina subsea well to the Ana wellhead platform—about 18 km (11 miles) and offshore export pipeline from the Ana wellhead platform to shore at about 121 km (75 miles).

The group will also be responsible for the onshore pipeline to the gas treatment plant and the gas treatment plant itself.

Domino Success

In December 2012, ExxonMobil and OMV Petrom spudded the Domino-1 exploration well—the first in Romania’s deepwater sector of the Black Sea—with the well discovering significant gas reserves.

Domino-1 is located in the Neptune Block about 170 km (106 miles) offshore at a water depth of 930 m (3,051 ft).

Both partners said preliminary estimates are between 1.48 Tcf and 2.96 Tcf (42 Bcm and 84 Bcm) of gas, which is up to six times more than the annual consumption of Romania.

In terms of development options, some analysts have suggested that a Domino project could be combined with the potential plays in the Polshkov Ridge offshore Bulgaria.

Other Plays

A report by ICM Petroleum Management in 2012 suggested the Western/Mid Black Sea has significant deepwater exploration opportunities. These include the Polshkov Ridge offshore Bulgaria, the Tetyaev High off Ukraine and the Andrusov Ridge off Turkey.

Also off Ukraine, ICM said the Forosa area has recoverable resources of between 952.9 MMboe and 1.1 Bboe, while the New Skifska area has recoverable resources of between 586.4 MMboe and 733.0 MMboe.

The report noted that the offshore Russia/Caucasus area needs more exploration.

“The prospects of finding major untapped reserves of oil and gas deep under the Black Sea are driving exploration projects in the region. Developing these resources, however, will call for sophisticated designs and advanced tubular technologies,” Tenaris said, regarding the Black Sea’s deepwater plays back in 2011 before the recession hit exploration and development budgets.

“Should this and future exploration campaigns confirm the vast energy resources that are believed to exist beneath the Black Sea, this emerging oil and gas province might one day match the production rates currently seen in established major markets, such as Russia, the Caspian Sea or the North Sea,” Tenaris added. “The challenging conditions posed by ultradeepwater offshore rigs require the support of sophisticated tubular products and services, which in many cases make the difference between failure and success.”

Enough Potential?

The western part of the Black Sea, driven by Romania as well as Bulgaria, is considered one of the most promising hydrocarbon plays in Southeast Europe.

However, striking a few large discoveries is not enough to kick start a surge in activity in the region in the current low oil price environment. That said, oil prices are slowly rising and the industry has gone through a serious cost-cutting campaign that has brought down margins for field development projects.

Lower rig rates could also encourage more drilling in the Black Sea or at least trigger a rethink on many of the wells that were delayed after the oil price crash.

—Steve Hamlen