MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s state oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, wants operational control over a major offshore oil area discovered by a consortium of private companies before development gets under way, its top official said on Wednesday.
Pemex Chief Executive Officer Octavio Romero told a news conference the company believes most of the crude found by the consortium, in the largest oil discovery made by any private firm in Mexico in decades, lies in an adjacent block where it holds development rights.
Romero said Pemex believed the so-called Zama discovery extended from the area operated by U.S.-based Talos Energy Inc into its own neighboring block.
Later on Wednesday, Talos CEO Tim Duncan fired back, reaffirming a technical analysis showing it had a large majority of the find and expressing worry that development of the project to the benefit of all parties could be delayed.
Earlier this month, Talos said a third-party study by Netherland, Sewell & Associates - a technical oil consulting firm that Pemex has also used in the past - estimated that 60% of the roughly 700 million-barrel find lies in the Talos block the company won at an auction in 2015 and currently operates, while Pemex holds 40%.
Romero said a Pemex analysis showed “most” of the Zama reservoir was in the adjoining block belonging to Pemex.
“Pemex also wants to be the operator of this field,” he added, referring to who should be in charge of commercially developing the area.
Romero did not provide details of the analysis of the area, located along the southern rim of the Gulf of Mexico.
The Talos-led consortium has already drilled several exploratory wells on its block and has been negotiating behind closed doors for about a year with Pemex over a joint plan to develop the field, but no agreement has been announced.
Despite repeated pledges to do so, Pemex has yet to drill its exploratory Asab well on its portion. But Romero said the heavily indebted firm would also like to develop two additional, nearby prospects on acreage it already controls.
Such a cluster would promote efficient development of the oil and gas riches below, even bringing production online faster than Talos’ estimation, Romero said.
“There are two other potential reservoirs (nearby): one called Naquita and another called Chamak, which constitute a development cluster that we’re looking to create that will slash operating costs by a lot,” he said.
Two week ago, Pemex’s exploration and production arm received authorization from regulators to drill the Naquita well, but no such authorization has yet been given to drill Chamak.
Pemex has struggled with 15 consecutive years of declining oil production. Critics have said it has not invested enough for decades to explore and confirm discoveries.
“We think Asab can enter into production next year. They are thinking production won’t happen until 2024,” Romero said, in an apparent reference to the Talos-led consortium, which also includes Germany’s Wintershall Dea and Britain’s Premier Oil .
In a recent plan submitted to regulators, Pemex removed Asab from its most likely drilling scenario for its block neighboring Zama.
Instead, it placed it in a more speculative scenario, fueling new doubts on when it will actually drill the well that would enable the company to better estimate its portion of the discovery.
The company’s planned Naquita well is farther to the east and could be aimed at a different reservoir.
Reporting by Ana Isabel Martinez and David Alire Garcia; Editing by Tom Brown and Peter Cooney