Austrian oil company OMV has confirmed a drilling rig for a planned multi-well drilling campaign at the offshore Taranaki Maari field from late this year, as part of a wider $400 million investment.
Maari is New Zealand's largest producing oilfield.
The existing, highly successful Maari field produces about 10,000 barrels of oil a day and has pumped out almost 21 million barrels in total since it first started in 2009.
OMV announced last week that the jack-up rig ENSCO 107 had been contracted to do the work, starting next summer. The exact start date depends on when the rig finishes its earlier assignment. The Maari drilling campaign is expected to last nine months.
Well numbers at Maari are yet to be confirmed but could be between three and five wells by the ENSCO 107, designed for relatively shallow water of about 100 metres.
Another rig, Kan Tan IV, will drill the Matuku exploration well, a nearby Manaia appraisal well and an exploration well in the Whio prospect in the neighbouring permit, PEP 51313, near Maari. Kan Tan is a floating rig for deeper water.
Maari has been a bonanza for its partners since it started producing four years ago and it has already paid back its development costs of more than $1 billion.
But daily production is well down from an initial peak of 40,000 barrels and the aim of more wells is to tap more oil and steady the natural decline in production.
With up to five new wells proposed, the partners hoped to lift daily production rates by perhaps "a couple of thousand barrels" a day, from 13,000 to 14,000 barrels of oil and gas combined, OMV said last year.
OMV declined to say how many New Zealanders would be employed in the $400m project, saying it depended on the availability of skilled staff, nor how much of that $400m was likely to be spent here.
"For certain New Plymouth will be an extremely busy port, as the supply vessel fleet will be operating out of there. Catering, taxis, trucks, flights and all of what is needed to keep two drilling rigs busy will be in high demand," OMV said.
OMV managing director Peter Zeilinger said the partners were committed to further developing the Maari field and getting the rig in such a tight market was a "positive step".
Drilling costs are understood to be about $350,000 a day, but the company would not comment on that cost.
OMV is New Zealand's biggest oil producer and third-largest gas producer. It is a big explorer in Taranaki and the Great South Basin off the coast of the South Island.
As well as its stake in Maari, OMV has interests in the Maui and Pohokura gas fields and in the Maui pipeline.
The multi-well programme at Maari will run alongside the floating drilling programme using the semi-submersible rig Kan Tan IV.
OMV holds 69 per cent of Maari and is field operator. Other partners are Todd Maari with 16 per cent, Horizon Oil with 10 per cent and Cue Taranaki with 5 per cent.
In 2011, OMV made a profit of $324m in New Zealand, up $43m on the previous year.
Horizon Oil, one of the partners in the offshore Taranaki Maari oil field, says its share of production from the field was 62,808 barrels in the December quarter.
Horizon has a 10 per cent stake in the field. The field has produced a total of 20.8 million barrels, to the end of January.
Field production was affected during the quarter by a shutdown for a weekfor maintenance in December, with some individual wells also shut for varying reasons.
Horizon said current total field production was about 10,000 barrels a day, worth more than US$1 million (NZ$1.2m).
Horizon said there were significant reserves at the Maari/ Manaia field but extra drilling and enhancement of the water injection system were needed to get at the reserves.
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