Pemex at Sea, a look at offshore activities

12/01/2021

The sea was a promise and Pemex was so clear about it that, since the second decade of its existence, it broke the barrier of land to develop the first marine seismological study in 1949, carried out in the northern portion of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, on the continental platform of the Gulf of Mexico, with successful results that led to the location of the Tortuguero-1 well, in the field that bore the same name. Even though it was drilled and exploited from the coast, it was the extraction of crude in a marine deposit.

It would take almost a decade for the first offshore steel platforms to be installed for the exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits; this occurred in 1958, in front of Barra de Santa Ana, in Tabasco. The experience of Pemex had motivated a remarkable evolution in its geological concepts in the '50s; Hence, the gravimetry and reflection seismology works carried out in the northern zone served as a base for the discovery and development of the fields as an extension towards the southeast of the Faja de Oro (a zone of rich oil production located in the limits of the states of Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosi and Veracruz) and the Tamabra strip (name of the mid-Cretaceous geological formation, located at the Plataforma Valles - San Luis Potosi) where the first marine seismology work was done between Cabo Rojo (strip of land that separates Tamiahua Lagoon from the Gulf of Mexico, near Tuxpan, Veracruz) and Tecolutla.

Pemex had completely broken the barrier of the coasts with a solid background. In 1975, it was already entering the waters of the Gulf of Mexico where it drilled the first exploratory well in the Campeche Sound. This was the Chac-1, 80 kilometers from Isla del Carmen, which was followed by a great expansion that, through detailed geological and geophysical studies and the results obtained with the Akal and Nohoch wells, confirmed the existence of a great deposit that was named Cantarell.

Very early in the history of the national oil industry, the marine subsoil manifested itself as an important deposit of pristine wealth that Pemex has been able to exploit in abundance.

The great step of exploration in the Campeche Sound was possible thanks to the fact that, during the previous decade, the tools that gave rise to transformations in the organization and the methods with which the results transcended the following decades to make oil exploration a multidisciplinary activity were developed. The evaluation of the provinces and the arguments to propose the exploratory locations were improved, as well as the quality and control of the information of the drilled wells; in the same way, the topographic precision and the cartographic quality were advanced, the same happened with the availability of new methods to reach greater and greater depths.

Everything was ready for Pemex to enter the Campeche Sound where, in addition to obtaining important experiences in exploring the deposits, it set up an impressive infrastructure of operations capable of moving the greatest amount of hydrocarbons required by an oil power; as the country would become.

Part of that infrastructure would be the monumental marine platforms and the pipeline network that, after two decades, had already reached the length of 2 thousand 754 kilometers, of which one thousand 974.49 kilometers of underwater pipelines belonged to the Northeast Marine Region; of these, 44 percent were gas pipelines; 40 percent were oil pipelines and 11 percent were oil pipelines; the remaining 5 percent corresponded to a nitrogen pipeline. The Southwest Marine Region had 780 kilometers of underwater pipelines, 28 percent of which were gas pipelines, 42 percent were oil pipelines and 29 percent were oil pipelines.

Deposits

For more than four decades Pemex has been a successful company in discovering and exploiting the hydrocarbon deposits found in the marine subsoil of the Gulf of Mexico, a privileged area for the formation of resources that have become a source of national wealth and a symbol of contemporary life.

In the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Pemex has established its most important oil extraction capacity which, once transformed, has become an innumerable quantity of consumer goods and daily use that are part of daily life in today's world. Whether it be transportation fuels, electricity, plastics, among many others, all of them are an important part of the culture in modern society.

Despite the depletion of large deposits in the Campeche Sound, in the shallow waters, there is high potential hydrocarbons to be exploited that give life to the activities of exploration and production at sea for several decades.

These assets are made possible by the daily and unceasing efforts of the men and women who work, either on the platforms or from land-based facilities, to extract the precious raw material housed in the bowels of the seafloor.

In the southern zone of the Gulf of Mexico, especially in the so-called Campeche Sound, for almost half a century, Pemex has found important oil deposits that have given rise to an impressive deployment of exploration and production infrastructure made up of well drilling platforms settled on the seabed.

Shallow waters

The oil operations in shallow waters are characterized by the fact that they are located in the strip near the coasts that have water strains of up to 500 meters, as is the case of the Campeche Sound and the Tabasco Coast, in the Gulf of Mexico, which are in that range. The discovered deposits have given rise to exploitation projects such as Cantarell, Ku-Maloob-Zaap, Abkatun-Pol-Chuc and, more recently, Ayatsil-Tekel and Tsimin-Xux, among the most outstanding.

During the last 45 years, Mexico's greatest hydrocarbon wealth has been found in shallow waters, particularly in the Cantarell and Ku-Maloob-Zaap fields, located in the area that corresponds to the extension of the Southeast Basins in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

In this region, which covers approximately 575 thousand square kilometers, it is estimated that it can hold a large volume of oil that would provide the necessary reserves to ensure that the benefits of this resource reach new generations. Therefore, with a balanced portfolio of projects, Pemex will be able to make investments to explore and exploit new fields.

Exploring this hydrocarbon-rich area has represented for Pemex great challenges, as well as others that are foreseen for the future. It is estimated that almost a third of the country's prospective resources are found there and there are quantified proven and probable reserves that represent more than half of the national total.

The production complexes installed in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, make them authentic "floating islands", every day with better technology and more advanced processes.

The most recent discoveries and the successes that Pemex has had in boosting production in mature fields have broadened the company's perspectives on its most attractive projects, which are added to the large deposits in the Campeche Sound such as Cantarell and Ku-Maloob-Zaap, for the extraction of heavy, extra heavy, light, ultra-light and condensed crudes, as well as associated and non-associated gas.

Pemex's production platform is strongly based on the contribution that will come from giant fields such as Ayatsil and Tekel, whose deposits are rich in extra-heavy crudes, as well as those of Tsimin and Xux, which contain ultra-light oils, in addition to the advances that continue to be obtained in the secondary recovery of mature fields.

In the current phase of the hydrocarbon industry, offshore oil extraction is facing high costs, as well as increasing technical and geological challenges. Mexico still has a large amount of resources to exploit in shallow waters, which is why Pemex is investing in the development of reserves in order to maintain national oil production, since these fields offer the best levels of profitability compared to other marine fields, in addition to having significant volumes of proven reserves.

In relation to the shallow waters, in Round Zero, Pemex was assigned exploration areas and production fields that guarantee the viability in the short and medium term to achieve the incorporation of reserves and the stabilization of the extraction at competitive costs. These fields represent an adequate balance in which we have great experience and in which more detailed studies have been carried out.

Round Zero is the procedure established in the Law, under which the Ministry of Energy assigns areas for the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons to productive state companies, with the purpose of obtaining income that contributes to the long-term development of the Nation.

Since the first half of the 20th century, Pemex has intensively exploited the resources in this maritime strip. Since then, a large number of platforms have been deployed to drill oil wells and abundant crude oil and natural gas have been obtained. The installed maritime platforms currently extract approximately three-quarters of the oil that Mexico exports.

The history of the great oil fields in the world shows that once they reach their maximum production level, an inevitable natural phenomenon of decline begins. Cantarell is an example of this.

Mexico began its takeoff in 1979 as one of the great oil producing and exporting countries in the world, precisely because of the magnitude of the hydrocarbon reserves in the shallow waters. In the following decade, this giant field alone generated 37 percent of the country's crude oil production; 40 percent during the 1990s, and between 2000 and 2007 it rose to 57 percent; more than half of national production.

The experience developed by Pemex in the extraction of hydrocarbons from subsoils such as those in the Gulf of Mexico, makes it an undisputed leader in the world.

In the first years of this century, Cantarell reached its maximum production record. At the end of 2003, the country reached its highest level ever: four out of every five barrels of oil came from shallow water extraction, most of it from this super giant field; however, by 2013 its production had declined sharply. On average, each year it fell by more than 15 percent from its peak production. Currently, Pemex's priority is to work in the mature fields of the Gulf Coast in this deposit, because it continues to be a very important project for Mexico.

Although Cantarell is in a stage of exhaustion, exploration and production in shallow waters has left the Mexican oil industry with invaluable experience and recognized leadership in the world. Pemex has developed its own technology, qualified personnel, and accumulated experience over the years, which has strengthened it to move towards increasingly complex and demanding operations, in large part to face the difficult geology of this area.

Pemex, aware of its responsibility to the environment in the waters of the Gulf, operates safely to carry out exploration and exploitation in shallow waters, under the very strict rules of care for the ecological environment and with adherence to the dictates of regulatory bodies.

Source: Excerpt from the book Pemex en el Mar, the title of the book published by Petróleos Mexicanos