The dual-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago punches well above its weight in the global economy, thanks to its plentiful hydrocarbon reserves. The same is true within BP, with operations in Trinidad and Tobago accounting for around 12% of the company’s total global oil and gas production. It’s a long and fruitful relationship that BP hopes will continue to flourish and grow in the years to come.
Five centuries ago, when explorers were sailing the globe in a bid to discover new lands, many passed through Caribbean waters on their way to the Americas. Among them was the British navigator, Sir Walter Raleigh, who – it is said – came across a ‘lake’ of asphalt on the south-western corner of Trinidad in the 1590s. Pitch Lake, as it is known today, is one of the world’s largest natural deposits of this sticky, black substance – created by deep deposits of oil that are forced to the surface, where the lighter elements of the hydrocarbon evaporate to leave behind the heavy asphalt. Adventurers such as Raleigh used the substance to seal their ships’ hulls, before continuing a voyage.
These days, exploration in the region is not about ﬁnding new territory to mark on an atlas, but identifying further hydrocarbon deposits hinted at by the ones those early navigators ﬁrst came across. The expanse of dark viscous material that seeps up through the ground at Pitch Lake provides visual conﬁrmation of the rich natural resources that lie beneath these islands’ surface and off their coastlines.
Trinidad and Tobago enjoyed its ﬁrst oil boom after 1910, although the abundant natural gas in its reservoirs was only fully appreciated several decades later. From the late 1970s, gas began to dominate the country’s energy market, as it does today. The dual-island nation produced more than 700,000 barrels of oil equivalent in natural gas on a daily basis in 2011, of which BP’s Trinidad and Tobago business – BPTT – contributed around 55%. The company operates 13 offshore platforms, onshore oil and gas processing terminals and is the largest shareholder in the liqueﬁed natural gas (LNG) company, Atlantic, with its four liquefaction units, or trains.
“We are a business that has gone through tremendous growth, especially since the start-up of the ﬁrst LNG train in 1999,” says BPTT regional president, Norman Christie. “This country’s natural gas production grew from 1.3 billion to 4.3 billion cubic feet a day between 1999 and 2010, and our own production more than doubled in that period.”
Today, BPTT contributes around 12% of BP’s total oil and gas production globally. The challenge for the organisation now lies in maintaining that level, to provide consistent value for company and country. With natural gas projected to be the world’s fastest-growing fossil fuel by 2030 and demand for LNG increasing in countries such as China and India, the business is looking at how it will meet the long-term supply needs through its existing position, by maximising recovery from producing reservoirs.
“One of our goals is to really exploit our base production, in an efﬁcient way, using existing wells,” says Keith Bally, vice president of the resource team. “We are looking at bringing wells back online and recompleting different reservoir zones, those we haven’t produced from before, in what we call ‘secondary pay’. In this way, we are looking to reap rewards and the potential is huge.”
There are also potential new opportunities in existing ﬁelds where resource appraisal has been difﬁcult in the past, due to the limitations of technology to ‘visualise’ what lies beneath layers of shallow gas. To better understand the subsurface in those areas, a $200 million ocean bottom cable (OBC) seismic acquisition programme is underway, that will cover around 1,000 square kilometres (386 square miles).
“We have brought in new technology to generate improved subsurface images; we expect this to mean a lot for the region in terms of what we can unlock, with clearer seismic lines that eliminate shallow gas effects,” Bally continues. Five specialist OBC vessels spent six months in the Caribbean, completing part of phase one by April.
The vessels will continue their work in Trinidadian waters later this year. For Bally, obtaining new seismic data covering the majority of BPTT’s gas ﬁelds makes a strong statement: “We are demonstrating to our stakeholders that we are leaving no stone unturned. It’s also about creating excitement within the organisation that we are looking to the future and beyond the expiry of existing gas contracts.”