(Adds statement from Petroleum Agency, updates share price)
By Rodrigo Gaier and Andrei Khalip
RIO DE JANEIRO, April 14 An offshore find by
Brazilian state oil company Petrobras (PETR4.SA)(PBR.N) in
partnership with BG Group BG.L and Repsol-YPF (REP.MC) may be
the world's biggest discovery in 30 years, the head of Brazil's
National Petroleum Agency said on Monday.
Haroldo Lima told reporters the find, known as Carioca,
could contain 33 billion barrels of oil equivalent, five times
the recent giant Tupi discovery. That would further boost
Brazil's prospects as an important world oil province and the
source of new crude in the Americas.
"It could be the world's biggest discovery in the past 30
years, and the world's third-biggest currently active field,"
Lima, head of the government's oil and fuel market regulator,
told reporters at an industry event in Rio de Janeiro.
Lima said he obtained the data from Petrobras at an
informal level. But the National Petroleum Agency distanced
itself from Lima's remarks, saying in a statement that they
were "unofficial" and simply repeated information already in
the public domain.
"All the data were already in the public domain, having
even been published in the February edition of World Oil
magazine, in the 'What's new in exploration' column signed by
Arthur Berman," the agency said in a statement.
Petrobras also declined to confirm the estimate and said
that studies on the find continued.
Still, Petrobras shares soared on the news, finishing 5.63
percent higher at 82.97 reais after gaining more than 7 percent
earlier in the session.
Lima would not say whether the preliminary reserve estimate
he provided was recoverable or in-place. Recoverable reserves
can constitute less than a third of in-place reserves.
Last year Petrobras put Tupi's recoverable reserves at
between 5 billion and 8 billion barrels of oil equivalent, most
of it light oil.
Petrobras tested one well at Carioca last year and is still
drilling another. The company made the Tupi recoverable reserve
estimate based on tests from two wells.
Petrobras said in a statement the second well had not yet
reached the subsalt level and "more conclusive data on the
potential of the block will be known after the evaluation
process is finished."
FIND COULD BE 'REALLY HUGE'
Analysts said the estimate was probably still very
preliminary, although it did not contrast with some geologists'
forecasts made in the past. Recent reports by UBS and Credit
Suisse also said the reserves could surpass those of Tupi.
"It's a very relevant number, basically triples the
reserves. But it still seems a little premature to have a
precise number while they are drilling a second well," said
Felipe Cunha, an analyst with Brascan bank in Rio de Janeiro.
The Carioca area lies west of Tupi in the prolific Santos
basin, off the coast of Sao Paulo state. BG has a 30 percent
stake in the project and Repsol 25 percent.
"It's subsalt, and we knew there were big expectations for
the subsalt cluster in addition to Tupi. But, if this is
confirmed, it's really huge," said Sophie Aldebert, associate
director with Cambridge Energy Research Association in Brazil.
"With that size, you'd have plenty of gains of scale that
could easily offset the subsalt geological challenges," she
added. The challenges include shifting salt clusters that
require reinforced piping and producing in deep waters from
huge depths under the ocean floor.
Geologists had long voiced the theory that Tupi could have
an even bigger neighbor containing light oil or natural gas. If
the reserves are confirmed, Brazil could jump into the top 10
oil countries by reserves, surpassing nations like Nigeria.
Petrobras also has said previously it sees good prospects
for major oil finds in the subsalt areas in the Campos and
Espirito Santo basins north of Santos, but it is focusing
mainly on Santos at the moment.
Most of Petrobras crude comes from heavy-oil Campos basin
fields, but recent subsalt discoveries could make Brazil a
major producer of higher quality oil.
The company expects to start an extended production test at
Tupi early next year and then crank up a 100,000 barrels per
day pilot project there in late 2010 or early 2011. Analysts
say, however, the costly subsalt development can take more time
than Petrobras expects.
(Additional reporting by Denise Luna)