Giant ship heads for Kiwi drilling spot

Last updated 01:06 28/04/2008
ROB KITCHIN/Dominion Post
AHOY THERE: The Raroa floating oil production ship has arrived in Wellington prior to setting out for the Maari wells, between Taranaki and the South Island.

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A ship berthed in Wellington Harbour since yesterday will carry a cargo worth close to $90 million in its new job off Taranaki.

Raroa is one of the keys to the $500 million development of the Maari oilfield and is in Wellington briefly before heading to a spot halfway between the South Island and Taranaki.

The 250-metre-long Raroa is a floating production, storage and off-take craft. At 43 metres wide, it will hold up to 590,000 barrels of oil (a barrel is 159 litres), worth about $148 a barrel at present prices, or more than $87 million a load.

The ship will be anchored near the Maari wells, which are expected to produce about 35,000 barrels a day at peak production. First oil should start flowing in the third quarter this year, with drilling of all the wells complete by the first quarter of next year.

The next phase is putting the 150-metre wellhead drilling platform in place in 100 metres of water about 80 kilometres offshore and drilling eight wells. The platform was anchored in Admiralty Bay in Marlborough Sounds before being towed to position.

Raroa will be connected to the platform but will lie about 1.5km away. A separate tanker will pick up a 400,000-barrel load of oil every fortnight from Raroa. The high-value but waxy oil will be sent to refineries in Australia.

Most of the big equipment for the Maari field has come from overseas, but dozens of New Zealanders are employed on the project.

Maari is expected to produce about 50 million barrels of oil, worth more than $7 billion at present prices. The Government will collect either 5 per cent of gross revenues or 20 per cent of the accounted profit, whichever is higher, as royalties.

Maari is being developed by Austrian oil giant OMV and partners. For OMV the field is its first big investment as operator on this scale outside Europe.

OMV has a market capitalisation of more than 13 billion and produces 320,000 barrels of oil a day internationally.

Its businesses are in Austria, Germany, North Africa, the Middle East including Iran, as well as a big joint venture in Romania. It ranks as a "second-division" company among the big oil explorers and producers.

OMV also holds 26 per cent of the Pohokura field, which has been producing for about 18 months, and 10 per cent of the Maui field. It is part of one of the big consortiums exploring for oil in the Great South Basin off the south of the South Island.

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OMV NZ managing director Steve Hounsell said seismic testing in the basin had taken four months and covered 14,000km. The monotony of the testing was broken briefly when a shark bit through a seismic cable being towed behind a ship, but the equipment was recovered.

Processing the results would take till the end of the year and a decision on whether to drill a well in the basin would be made about the third quarter of next year. The present high price of oil, about US$177 a barrel "certainly helps" encourage exploration, he said.

 

- The Dominion Post

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