BP gas discovery in Egypt’s East Nile Delta

A major gas discovery in Egypt underlines BP’s long-term commitment to the North African country despite this year’s civil unrest and political developments.
Maersk Discoverer

Just as a number of expatriate staff and their families returned to the capital, Cairo, for the start of the new school year, following a temporary partial evacuation, the company confirmed the Salamat discovery offshore in the East Nile Delta.

One of the deepest exploration wells ever drilled in the country, the Salamat well reached nearly seven kilometres, in a water depth of 649 metres. It is the first well to be drilled in the North Damietta offshore concession, granted to BP and partners in early 2010. BP has all of the equity in the Salamat discovery.

Striking gas at Salamat is important, not only for BP Egypt’s hydrocarbon portfolio, but also as a demonstration of the company’s continuing investment in the country during challenging times, according to regional president for Egypt, Hesham Mekawi.

“This was a very complex well to drill, with the operations taking more than a year to complete, making it one of the deepest and capital intensive wells in Egypt,” he says. “I believe the operation reflects our long-term commitment to the country during this period of change and challenges.”

Five decades of operations

This year marks BP’s 50th anniversary of business in Egypt – starting out through its heritage company, Amoco, and continuing as BP. Despite the many changes in the country’s political and social landscape during those decades, the company has never halted its operations there, including during the 2011 revolution.

“We take great pride in our presence here and in our partnership with the country – Egypt continues to face some challenging times, yet we are maintaining our activities in a sustainable manner,” Mekawi adds. “We believe that partners work together through both difficult and good times, and although we’re passing through a more testing period, we are always working with a view to the future.  We continue to be committed to Egypt for the long term.”

Discoveries such as Salamat indicate that Egypt’s energy industry has a bright future and offer renewed confidence in the potential of the East Nile Delta’s geology.

High pressure and temperatures

BP’s North Africa exploration director, Ahmed Hagras, says: “Oligocene reservoirs, a geological period dating back some 30 million years, targeted by the Salamat well are much deeper than our typical producing Pliocene and Miocene reservoirs in the Nile Delta.”

“To drill these complex and deep wells, we need the highest quality seismic data so we acquired a multi-azimuth 3D survey to cover the same area several times in different directions, enabling best illumination for the subsurface.”

“With that data in hand, the team managed to build a quality prospect inventory in the area and selected Salamat as the first exploration well. Despite the complexity of these high pressure and high temperature wells, we reached our objective safely.”

The presence of gas and condensate at Salamat was determined by wireline logs that take a continuous measurement of the formation’s properties with electronic instruments. Additional pressure data and fluid samples confirmed the presence of hydrocarbons. Further appraisal is still required to better define the field resources and to determine the best options for developing the discovery.

With the well located just 35 kilometres to the north west of the Temsah offshore facilities, in which BP has a 50% interest, one option could be to tie the Salamat field back to the existing infrastructure.

Staff return to work in Cairo

Meanwhile, back onshore, the number of BP’s staff working in Cairo is starting to return to ‘normal’. During the summer, when disturbances occurred on the streets, national staff were advised to remain at home to do their jobs, while expatriates in non- operations critical roles were taken out of the country. This marked the second evacuation undertaken by BP’s business support team (BST) in less than three years. Returning expatriates with children in school are now safely back in the country.

The BST – established in such circumstances to monitor the safety and whereabouts of employees and ensure the continuity of operations – met on a daily basis during peak times during this period and sometimes up to three times a day, often via telephone, to monitor the rapidly developing situation.

“Our first priority continues to be the safety and security of our staff and their families,” says Mekawi. “We always use extreme rigor in decision-making related to safety and security and hence we evaluate the situation on the ground and make decisions to ensure people are safe – that may mean closing the office or asking colleagues to work from home.

“Of course, our other priority is running our operations safely and trying to ensure minimum disruption – to people, supplies and logistics.”

BP has worked hard to ensure its oil and gas production has not been significantly affected during this period. Constant communication is the key to running a business in these challenging circumstances, with a tried and tested warden system used to account for people and communicate directly with them when necessary.

“For all our staff who are closely monitoring the developments – and their potential impacts - in the country, these national events can no doubt be a distraction,” concludes Mekawi. “However, in the midst of all this, the Salamat discovery is a testimony to how all our colleagues have come together as one team, maintained focus and accomplished a significant achievement.”