Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez says that everything is hunky dory despite the sinking of the Aban Pearl.
But sources at Pdvsa say that the Aban Pearl’s loss will set back the start of commercial gas production in the offshore Dragon dry gas field by at least six months.
Dragon is scheduled to start production of between 600 million cf/d and 700 million cf/d by November 2012, according to Pdvsa.
But our Pdvsa sources say that this deadline now could be pushed back to May 2013 or thereabouts, although Pdvsa won’t own up to that officially until the very last instant.
That’s bad news for Venezuela’s state-owned power sector, which is counting on Dragon’s gas to fuel thousands of MW of new thermal power generation capacity that is supposed to come online between 2010 and 2012.
No gas from Dragon means that the Corpoelec’s subsidiaries would have to continue burning more diesel and fuel oil, which implies hundreds of millions of dollars in lost export revenues for Pdvsa, and thus a lot less cash for the Revolution’s treasury.
It also means that the Guri Dam’s hydropower generation assets, and those of Macagua and Caruachi downriver, will be pushed harder by Corpoelec (aka Chavez) to generate more power by running more water through the turbines. Water levels in the Guri reservoir will fall faster even if it rains harder. And running heavier volumes of water through Guri’s aging Francis turbines increases the strain on these units and surrounding infrastructure.
It also means that government imposed power rationing could last until 2013. Recall that President Hugo Chavez said in March that 2011 would see a worse power crisis than 2010. Corpoelec and Pdvsa also targeted 2012 as the year during which the situation in the power sector will start to come into balance again.
Pdvsa reportedly is coordinating with the rig’s owner, Aban Singapore, on securing a replacement drilling rig. Aban Singapore is a wholly owned subsidiary of Aban Offshore, India’s largest oil drilling rig company.
But it could take the rest of 2010 to transport another offshore drilling rig to Venezuela, setting it up and starting operations in the Dragon field.
Pdvsa has two other rigs operating in Venezuela, including the Neptune Discoverer turret moored drillship and the Ensco 69, an independent leg slot jackup rig.
The Neptune Discoverer, owned by PetroSaudi International and managed by Neptune Marine and Drilling, started to operate in Venezuela in June 2008 (but reportedly has been plagued with problems).
The Ensco 69 rig started operations in Venezuela in August 2008 under a two-year contract between Ensco International of the US and Pdvsa.
But Pdvsa took control of the rig in January 2009 after Ensco suspended drilling operations because it was owed almost $36 million by Pdvsa at the time. Ensco 69 now is operated by Pdvsa subsidiary PetroSucre.
But only Neptune Discoverer is capable of drilling at 160 meters, the water depth that Aban Pearl was operating in when it sank. Aban Pearl’s water depth is 1,250 ft, or 381 meters. Neptune Discoverer’s water depth is 1,500 feet, or 457.2 meters. But Ensco 69’s water depth is 380 feet, or just over 115 meters.