Kapuni field might last a bit longer

More than four decades after it was discovered, Taranaki's veteran Kapuni gasfield is still producing - in fact new wells have just been drilled to extend the field's life even further, as Rob Maetzig explains.

Last updated 11:31 19/04/2010
kapuni stand
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Drilling again: Two new wells have been drilled in Taranaki's Kapuni gas field - the first for 10 years. One is already in production.

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It could be said that Kapuni created New Zealand's natural gas industry.

Of course the much larger Maui offshore field and its huge amounts of available gas was responsible for the development of the industry to what it is today, and these days it is the Pohokura field that is meeting about 40 per cent of the country's gas requirements.

More recently there have been the Kupe offshore field and other smaller onshore fields that have also been discovered and developed, and they, too, are contributing to the New Zealand gas supply infrastructure.

But through it all there has been Kapuni - discovered way back in 1959 and happily pouring out a constant supply of natural gas since being developed and brought on-stream 10 years later.

The notoriously secretive New Zealand energy industry will never officially say just how much natural gas has been produced from Kapuni, but experts reckon the figure is now more than 1.6 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of the stuff, which is way more than the originally forecast ultimate recovery figure.

And Kapuni continues to produce, too. Naturally the production rate isn't as high as at its peak when it was producing as much as 90 billion cubic feet (bcf) a year, but those in the know say it is still producing at about 20 to 30 bcf, which means the field remains a very valuable contributor to New Zealand's total gas stream.

The Kapuni discovery really was a landmark event for New Zealand.

Not only did it launch a new era that gave consumers access to natural gas as an efficient and low-cost energy source for domestic and industrial use, but it also kicked off development of the energy infrastructure that is now so important to the Taranaki economy.

Up until this year a total of 16 producing wells on nine sites in the Kapuni field all fed gas and condensate via underground pipelines to the Kapuni production station for processing.

But now the field's owners Shell and Todd, which own 50 per cent each, have begun drilling new production wells in an effort to extend the field's life.

These are the first new wells to be drilled in the field for 10 years.

Two wells have been drilled so far and one is already producing, confirmed Rob Jager, the chairman of Shell companies in New Zealand and general manager of the field's operating company Shell Todd Oil Services Ltd.

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What he finds motivating about the drilling of the new wells is that their success is only possible thanks to modern-day advances in oil and gas technology.

"The romance is all about the ability to apply new techniques," he said in an interview last week.

"The sub-surface at Kapuni is hugely complex.

"The existing producing zones are around 3.5km underground, and while with the early wells it was simply a matter of drilling straight down into them, with the new wells is has been more a case of drilling directionally to target other zones that up until now have not been producing for a variety of reasons.

"This is all pretty high-tech. What is shows is that all the simple stuff has already been done, and that finding new sources of gas from an existing field can be a complicated exercise."

The Kapuni operation is not the only drilling that Shell has been carrying out this year.

The company has also been busy in the Maui offshore field, where it has just drilled four new wells from the existing Maui-B production platform, and is about to drill three more from the Maui-A platform.

These wells are targeting pockets of "bypass" gas that were missed when the original production wells were drilled.

"They are potentially as risky as frontier exploration drilling, and they require lots of new technology and expertise," Mr Jager said.

While none of the wells has been brought into production, their gas flows will be relatively small, he said.

"Their main objective is to add to the Maui gas flow. Each represents an opportunity to incrementally add to that."

Mr Jager confirmed that depending on the production success of all these wells, which are being drilled by a hydraulic workover rig, Shell may look at further opportunities within the Maui field.

There's also a possibility Shell will contract an offshore rig to drill an exploration well into a prospect called Ruru located between the Maui field and the Taranaki coastline, he said.

"The challenge will be to get a suitable rig. But we have the exploration licence, and we're hoping we may be able to drill as early as next summer."

Mr Jager said that drilling activity underlined the fact that although Shell had quit the so- called "downstream" side of New Zealand's energy industry by selling off such assets as service stations, it remained committed to the upstream.

"We regard ourselves as holding a leadership position in this regard. We supply 80 per cent of New Zealand's gas, and we intend continuing to be very much part of the oil and gas scene here."

- Taranaki Daily News

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