Exxon Mobil Corp. and partners have started oil production from the Liza Field offshore Guyana, the U.S. major said late Dec. 20, making history for the small South American country.

The milestone establishes Guyana as a global oil producer. It also cranks up another growth engine for Exxon and partners Hess Corp. and China's CNOOC.

Startup of the first phase of the development comes less than five years after Exxon Mobil affiliate Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Ltd. made the discovery. Sanctioned in 2017, Liza is the first of 14 discoveries made since 2015 by the partners on the prolific Stabroek Block, which spans some 26,800 sq km.

Utilizing the Liza Destiny FPSO, peak production of up to 120,000 bbl/d is expected within months at Liza Phase 1, Exxon said. The development features four subsea drill centers with 17 wells, including eight producers, six water injectors and three gas injectors.

“This historic milestone to start oil production safely and on schedule demonstrates ExxonMobil’s commitment to quality and leadership in project execution,” Exxon Mobil CEO Darren Woods said in statement. “We are proud of our work with the Guyanese people and government to realize our shared long-term vision of responsible resource development that maximizes benefits for all.”

The second phase will be larger than the first. Plans for the $6 billion Liza Phase 2 development, sanctioned earlier this year by Exxon and Hess, call for six drill centers with about 30 wells, including 15 producers, nine water injectors and six gas injection wells. A mid-2022 production start is being targeted.

“A second FPSO, Liza Unity, with a capacity of up to 220,000 gross barrels of oil per day is under construction to support the Liza Phase 2 development, and front-end engineering design is underway for a potential third FPSO, the Prosperity, to develop the Payara field upon government and regulatory approvals,” Hess said in a separate news release.

Developers have said Payara, which could start up in 2023, will have up to 45 wells.

Estimated recoverable resources discovered so far on the block have surpassed 6 billion barrels of oil equivalent as exploration continues. News of the most recent discovery—Tripletail—was delivered in September.

Holding a 45% interest, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Ltd. is the operator. Hess holds 30% interest, while CNOOC Nexen Petroleum Guyana Ltd. holds 25% interest.