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MADAGASCAR: SEDIMENTARY BASINS
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The island of Madagascar in the Western Indian Ocean, some 400 kilometers off the southeast coast of Africa, covers nearly 590000 square kilometers (km²) and is the fourth largest one in the world, the size of France, Belgium, and a piece of the Netherlands. She hosts five sedimentary basins totalling 320000 km², but only three are the most important from the standpoint of hydrocarbon resource potential. They occupy the west coast and comprise from North to South the onshore/offshore Ambilobe, Mahajanga (Majunga) and Morondava basins which cover an area of approximately 170000 km². The potential accumulations of non-conventional oils in Madagascar occur in the Basin of Morondava and encompass the Bemolanga bitumen deposits and the Tsimiroro heavy oil deposits that have been known about since the early 1900s. The current license holder of the corresponding blocks, that is, the block 3102 for the Bemolanga bitumen field and the block 3104 for the Tsimiroro heavy oil field which cover 7175 km² and 6670 km², respectively, is Madagascar Oil Ltd (MOL), a Bermuda-registered company. As recently as March 14, 2008, MOL announced that its Tsimiroro P-1-4 Well -apparently a production test well- delivered an initial flow rate of 65 barrels per day (bpd) of fluid with a net 45 barrels of heavy oil per day produced from approximately 25% of the total net reservoir pay in the well.  A steam injection method which appears to be the Cyclic Steam Stimulation (CSS) was used, seemingly contradicting what Sam Malin, the then outgoing Madagascar Oil’s chief executive officer, asserted in October 2006. Indeed, he then envisaged using the steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) technique on the Tsimiroro heavy oil deposit which reportedly should be producible with 46 wells.  Oddly enough, CEO Alex Archila also made allusion to another heavy oil production method in January 2008 as he stated that " the Tsimiroro project achieved first oil from cold production in early 4th quarter" (of 2007) and "four wells were drilled and complemented" for the purpose of heavy oil recovery through the steam injection technique. In early May this year (2008), a Malagasy daily reported that the second test well, still using the steam injection method and scheduled to be drilled on the heels of the first one, was reported to have yielded a better volume.  Announcement was then made that the details are still kept confidential and will not be released until the achievement of further studies and analyses of the results obtained. A little more than two months later, Alvaro Kempowsky, Director General of Madagascar Oil, made it known that the "results were conclusive with an output of 450 barrels per day and confirm the existence of (heavy) oil, whose quality approaches that of conventional oil" without further clarification. Anyway, a dozen more wells will be drilled to supplement the information on the extent and profile of the deposit, and of course, the life span of the reservoir should be 20 year at least to be profitable.  To date, neither the duration of the production test period nor the number of wells in operation or to be soon put into operation, nor the intended use of the extracted heavy oil pumped into the storage tanks has been clearly stated. The following review will try to retrace the exploration and appraisal/development activities carried out by MOL on the Tsimiroro heavy oil and Bemolanga oil sands deposits since the signature of contracts with the Malagasy government in 2004, as they are reported in the media. Though it mainly focuses on its activities pertinent to the Tsimiroro heavy oil extraction "pilot project" and the announced programs for oil sands exploration and bitumen extraction in the Bemolanga field, it also will briefly look at how things are going with MOL's permits for exploration of conventional oil and gas. We will deal with the following subjects. 1° The Madagascar Oil Limited Company (MOL) 2° The Tsimiroro heavy oil pilot project 3° The Bemolanga oil sands deposit 4° The conventional oil and gas blocks 1° The Madagascar Oil Ltd company Madagascar Oil Limited (MOL), a Bermuda-registered private company, founded in 2004 by Robert Nelson and Sam Malin, CEO and Managing Director of Vuna Group, respectively, purports to become an oil and gas exploration and production company focusing on the development of onshore heavy oil fields and exploration of onshore conventional oil and gas prospects in Madagascar. According to several press reports, Alan Bond, the famous convicted fraudster and former bankrupt Australian businessman who served three years' jail in 1997 for corporate fraud is also a behind-the-scenes co-founder of Madagascar Oil which he established together with the Lesotho Diamond Corporation.  MOL was awarded from OMNIS (French acronym of the state oil and mineral body Madagascar's Office of National Mines and Strategic Industries) exploration and development rights to six large onshore blocks covering areas totalling 58455 km² , that is, over a third of the entire Malagasy sedimentary basins rich in hydrocarbon potential estimated at 170000 km². Besides the Tsimiroro (3104) heavy oil and Bemolanga (3102) oil sands blocks, they comprise the following conventional oil and gas ones: 2103: Majunga South: 15910 km2 3105: Manambolo: 5325 km2 3106: Morondava: 9100 km2 3107: Manandaza: 8775 km2 Zone de Texte: (Click to enlarge)In addition, MOL still owns a non-working 50 % interest in the onshore block 3109 of Mandabe of which the Irish company Tullow Oil Plc is the holder of the remaining 50 %. The latter is committed to complete a work programme including a 6700 km reconnaissance aerogravity survey to aid the design of a seismic acquisition programme. Actually, it was on behalf of an alleged Mauritian subsidiary of Vuna Group called Vuna Energy Ltd that Robert Nelson and Sam Malin initially signed with OMNIS two Production Sharing Contracts (PSC) for exploration and production of non-conventional oils on Tsimiroro and Bemolanga on April 29, 2004. It was then announced that the duration of contracts is 8 years in the exploration phase and 25 years in the production phase while the investment volume for exploration work on both fields, to start with, will be to the tune of US$500 million and could reach US$1500 million.  However, two years after it secured its oil exploration permits for the Tsimiroro and Bemolanga blocks, MOL managed to raise only US$85 million. On May 15, 2006, it announced the successful completion of a first US$60 million private placement of 40 million common voting shares at a share price of US$1.50. According to Sam Malin, the then CEO, these proceeds will be use, on the one hand, to "develop the company’s heavy oil interests in the large, onshore Tsimiroro field", and on the other hand, "for use on the group’s exploration programs, for repayment of debt and for general corporate purposes".Thus, these funds will "enable (them) to move the Tsimiroro field towards first oil".  The successful completion of a second private placement to the tune of US$25 million was announced five months later, on October 26, the proceeds of which are purported to be used, among other things, "in the operation of the ongoing steam injection pilot project meant to evaluate the development of the company’s interests in the large, heavy oil Tsimiroro field.." according to Alex Archila, the newly appointed joint CEO since July of that year.  On March 29, 2007, MOL announced that, in addition to the US$85 million raised throughout 1986, it secured a 24-month Equity-Linked Development Capital Facility in the amount of US$85 million with Credit Suisse, who acted as lead manager on the financing. Proceeds from the facility will be used for the company’s ongoing exploration and appraisal operations in Madagascar and would allow MOL to "move forward and on schedule with development plans for its massive Bemolanga and Tsimiroro fields", CEO Alex Archila stated. These "exploration and appraisal operations" and "development plans" encompass "coring and other appraisal work proceeding at Bemolanga", and the pilot steam injection project underway at the Tsimiroro heavy oil field, that is expected "to result in the first production of heavy oil during the third quarter of 2007."  In its release of August 7, 2007, the "Oil and Gas Investor" magazine reported that MOL had then raised US$196 million for heavy-oil exploration in Madagascar.  This figure is close to the US$200 million put forward by CEO Alex Archila in an interview with the pro-Malagasy government daily "Le Quotidien" in October 2007, of which US$110 million have already been invested in Madagascar, he specified.  We note that, only three months earlier, in June 2007, he revealed that the company had already spent about US$50 million on equipment, including storage tanks, a drilling rig, casing, drill pipe, consumables to drill 10 wells, trucks, cranes, and four portable steam generators.  That could imply that MOL would have spent a further US$60 million between June and October 2007. Lastly, the Malagasy media reported that MOL would have already spent over US$100 million on Tsimiroro alone. As is evident from the foregoing figures, the amount of funds made available to MOL is relatively modest considering the number and size of its blocks and the capital investments required for their exploration, appraisal, and development, particularly in regard to the Tsimiroro heavy oil and Bemolanga oil sands deposits. As a matter of fact, long and slow farm-in discussions were reportedly held between MOL and China National Petroleum Corp.(CNPC) -among other companies- throughout 2004, that means, shortly after the signature of Production Sharing Contracts with OMNIS. CNPC put an end to the negociations as MOL was thought to have overvalued all of its blocks at US$ 600 million.  A senior official from MOL still assessed these blocks at between US$400 million and US$500 million in an interview with the Hong-Kong based journalist Aries Poon of Dow Jones Newswire in November 2005,  though exploration/appraisal activities conducted by the company since the signature of contracts in April 2004 until then, were not clear and appeared next to nothing. It should be noted too, that, yet again in March , a few days before it announced the first production of heavy oil from the Tsimiroro steam pilot project, MOL was reported to be negotiating farm-out agreements for its blocks with a dozen companies.  It emerges from all that, that one might easily get the impression that MOL is more akin to those "concession brokers" who hope to make a fast profit by selling their contracts than to active oil exploration and development companies. .
2° The Tsimiroro Heavy Oil Project 2.1 Background of the Tsimiroro heavy oil field Tsimiroro is a village whose Laborde coordinates are X=750 and Y= 250 on the map of Madagascar. It attracted several foreign oil groups in the early 1900s because heavy oil seepages were encountered there on the surface. And then it became the name of a large heavy oil deposit in the onshore Morondava Basin of Madagascar, located south of the Bemolanga oil sands field and south of the town of Morafenobe. Thereafter, it designates a gravimetric anomaly that is approximately 40 km long and 10 km wide, covering an area of 400 km² bound to the north by Ambohidranomora, to the south by Maroboaly, while its central part encompasses the Folakara and Tsimiroro villages. These boundaries proceed from the gravity map drawn up by SPM (Société des Pétroles de Madagascar), the French oil corporation which worked in Madagascar during the 1950s and early 1960s. 2.2 Overview of exploration history of Tsimiroro In the period from 1909 to 2004, 61 wells have been drilled on the Tsimiroro area. From 1909 to 1912, a group of British explorers carried out seven drillings to a total depth of 1,750m in the Folakara area. Between 1915 and 1919, an American group drilled three wells to a total depth of 3749m on Maroboaly. Between 1936 and 1945, the French Colonial Service of Mines dug trenches for the purpose of recovering heavy oils and conducted some drillings in the Tsimiroro-Folakara region, among them Tsimiroro II, at depths ranging from 300 to 1000 m. Between 1946 and 1960, the Union for Oil Survey and Research (Syndicat d’Études et de Recherches Pétrolières or SERP) that later became the Madagascar Petroleum Corporation ( Société des Pétroles de Madagascar or SPM) undertook a gravity survey in order to delineate the subsurface structure of Tsimiroro and drilled four wells at depths ranging from 1200 to 2500m. In 1973 through 1974, the American company Chevron scheduled 21 drillings on Tsimiroro, each one at a maximum depth of 400m. However, because of the then prevailing political turmoil and the disappointing results of nine drillings already performed, Chevron gave up its project and left Madagascar. In 1979, OMNIS and CGG (Compagnie Générale de Géophysique or General Company of Geophysics) as contractor completed a 300 kilometer seismic survey to reach a better understanding of Tsimiroro. In 1980, the former French state-owned company, Elf Aquitaine, which has become part of Total Fina (first renamed Total Fina Elf, then Total S.A.) in 2000, proposed an association with the OMNIS to undertake a feasibility study on the exploitation of Tsimiroro heavy oils. The study which was scheduled to last five years envisaged to conduct a hundred appraisal and development wells and the installation of a pilot production unit as early as 1981. To this end, it budgeted US$68 million, that is worth approximately US$178 million today as measured by the CPI.  If the results of the study proved to be positive, the production of synthetic oils would start as earlier as 1986, and the full production capacity would be 1,500,000 tons per annum, or 30000 b/d. It should be noted that at the same time, the World Bank put forward a figure of US$2 billion (US$5.23 billion today) for the production of 2,000,000 tons of synthetic oil yearly, that is 45000 b/d. The Elf Aquitaine project, however, fell through because OMNIS opted for a World Bank sponsored program for the study of Tsimiroro funded to the tune of US$18 million (US$ 47 million today). It was regrettable that OMNIS didn't favor the proposal as it lost a golden opportunity to take advantage of the more than 20 year experience of the professionals from the defunct SPM (Madagascar Petroleum Corporation) that Elf Aquitaine re-hired. The World Bank funds were to be used for gathering data on the Tsimiroro deposit in order to attract investment from private oil companies as well as for an engineering study for a future pilot plant at Tsimiroro and a related study on the feasibility of upgrading heavy oil (Cr 1298-MAG, FY83). In May 1983, OMNIS resumed the project given up by Chevron in 1974 and obtained a new funding from the World Bank and OPEC. OMNIS, then, hired three Canadian firms, namely D&NS, as consultant, Bawden for drilling, and Corelab for laboratory studies. Ten drillings at 300 to1000m depths were projected, but eight only were carried out. Indeed, the tests of recovery of heavy oils were a total failure so the World Bank expressly required by fax the immediate halt of work. Later on, in 1985, OMNIS rashly entered into a contract with CGG for the undertaking of a Mini Sosie seismic survey over Tsimiroro, taking the opportunity of the presence in Madagascar of a CGG's seismic team as contractor of AGIP that was then working in Mahajanga.The results obtained were disappointing on account of their mediocrity. In fact, the parameters for data acquisition in the field that CGG selected were merely those of a standard seismic survey, and not those of a Mini Sosie seismic survey. Pétro-consultant who was hired by OMNIS to interpret the results harshly criticized the work carried out by CGG in that it was a sort of swindle as they falsely claim to have conducted a Mini Sosie seismic survey. Anyway, both works initiated by OMNIS proved to be a complete fiasco which cost the pretty tidy sum of US$11 million (US$ 22 million today). 2.3 Tsimiroro Drilling Results No positive results have ever been recorded in any past reports concerning Tsimiroro, except for the Tsimiroro 2 well where a drilling to a depth of 470m conducted by the French Colonial Service of Mines produced 2.5 barrels a day of heavy oil in the early 1940s. Out of the ten well drillings planned by OMNIS in 1983, the eight ones carried out between July 15 and November 10 were, as previously indicated, a total failure. A tentative recovery of the heavy oils by a series of pumpings yielded important quantities of fresh water and only tiny traces of oil. Thirty-two barrels of fresh water were obtained from TW1 after 28 strokes of pumpings over six hours. TW2 that was drilled to a total depth of 360m gave out 36 barrels of fresh water after 150 pumpings. TW3 that was drilled to a total depth of 280m gave out 63 barrels of fresh water over eight hours' pumpings. TW4 that was drilled to a total depth of 442m gave out 30 barrels of fresh water as a result of 20 pumpings. TW9 that was drilled to a total depth of 224m first gave out 38 barrels of fresh water after 40 pumpings. Later on, after the resumption of the operations for 24 hours, one collected 80 extra barrels. TW10 that was drilled to a total depth of 1091m gave out 32 barrels of fresh water after 34 pumpings. TW11 that was drilled to a total depth of 265m has been located at close proximity -just a few hundred metres- to Tsimiroro 2, apparently out of fear of undergoing another failure. Furthermore, there were injected 98 barrels of diesel oil as a solvent. Pumping was carried out only two days later and gave 10 barrels of fluids made up of diesel oil, heavy oil, and water. But it was soon stopped as the wall of the hole started to collapse. Finally, after TW 12 that was drilled to a total depth of 275m brought to the surface 88 barrels of fresh water, the World Bank called for an immediate cessation of the operations, as already mentioned. The lack of success can be explained in one of three ways: - a failure of the cementing carried out by Bawden which would have not been sufficiently tight to isolate the layer containing heavy oils from that which contains water; - the unsuitability of the recovery method used by D & S for Tsimiroro heavy oils; - or simply, the absence of heavy oils ! 2.4 Evaluation of the heavy oil potential of Tsimiroro: Estimates of Tsimiroro resource potential of original heavy crude oils in place that are found in the Isalo and Amboloando formations have varied widely and still remain uncertain to date. They have ranged from 0.309 to 26 billion barrels though they are often put at between 2.5 and 5 billion bbls. In 2003, at the time Vuna Energy signed with the Malagasy Government an agreement that gave the company exclusive rights to conduct surveys on the Tsimiroro deposit during a 20-month period, Tsimiroro was believed to have estimated reserves of 26 million barrels.  However, in a report of the same year, Rusk, Bertagne, & Associates (Petromarex) stated that the Tsimiroro oilfield has an estimated 8 billion barrels of heavy oil-in-place.  In May 2006, Razaka Elysé, Director General of OMNIS, contended that "Tsimiroro (has) the capacity to produce about 2.5 billion barrels of heavy oil."  However, in February 2007, he scaled down Tsimiroro potential to some 200 million barrels "which (still) remains to be confirmed".  Later in December that year, the acting Director-General - Lalaharisaina Joeli Valérien- announced that the reserve figure for a 30 km² portion of the structure was estimated at 97 million barrels.  Actually, it appears that by applying a simple rule of three, we would get a reserve figure of about 226 million barrels for the area of 70 km² around the Folakara-Tsimiroro zone where most of the past drillings were carried out, so that the 200 million barrel figure put forward for probable reserves looks plausible. Finally, a resource assessment prepared by Netherland, Sewell, and Associates, Inc (NSAI) for MOL gave a mid-case estimate of 1.028 billion barrels of oil in place with 611 million barrels recoverable.  The low-case estimate reported was 309 million barrels of oil in place, of which 153 million are recoverable, whereas the corresponding figures for the high-case estimate were 2.574 and 1.799 billion barrels, respectively. In sum, what should be kept in mind is that the existence of billions or millions of barrels of heavy oil in Tsimiroro which has been talked about for over a century has never been confirmed and proven by appraisal wells -except for the 200 million barrels in the Folakara-Tsimiroro zone- though, in total, 61 wells or so were drilled in the area during the period from 1909 to 2004. And yet, only by performing appraisal wells one gains the necessary information needed to determine the presence and extent of the resource potential. Despite those unknowns, however, MOL has already undertaken production testing in order to determine the effectiveness of a thermal method for the recovery of heavy oil from as yet unproven reserves. The propriety of this approach obviously raises serious concerns in that it seems to put the cart before the horse, and as a result, does not answer the questions crucial to the potential investors, that is, those in regard to the confirmation of the presence of heavy oil in the field, the magnitude of its proven resources, and the threshold volume at which it can be developed economically. In particular, the confirmation of the NSAI mid-case estimate of 1.028 billion barrels of oil in place requires that the existence of 800 million barrels of oil in place be still proved since only 200 million barrels of probable reserves were established by previous drillings. 2.5 MOL's activities in the Tsimiroro area 2.5.1. The search for petroleum Before examining MOL's activities on Tsimiroro, it may be worthwhile to recall that when an oil company is actively engaged in the search for and exploitation of petroleum in an area thought to be promising, his studies and work program usually go through the following stages: exploration, appraisal, development and production. -The exploration phase comprises geological and geophysical field investigations. If the analysis of the data collected yields positive results, the company may decide to carry on with wildcat drillings, targeting the geological layers believed to hold oil. If significant oil and/or gas shows are then encountered, it proceeds to their appraisal. -The appraisal phase, together with the exploration one, may take several years to complete. It consists in a work program that encompasses comprehensive analysis of information gathered in the exploration phase, conducting technical studies such as shooting further 2D/3D seismic surveys or seismic reprocessing, if need be, and drilling additional wells. These appraisal wells aimed at determining the size and structure of the reservoir, establishing the properties of the oil or gas through analysis of the crude oil sample obtained, and identifying the recovery factor -- the likely proportion of the oil present that could be extracted, thereby evaluating the commercial potential of the deposit. Based on the results obtained and after assessment of technical and economical risks, a decision is made to go forward with development projects or not. - If the company moves into the field development phase, it conducts further development wells to confirm the commerciality of the reservoir and proceeds with engineering, design, economic, environmental, etc. studies with a view to putting the deposit into production. Various developmental scenarios may then be submitted for evaluation. - The exploitation or production phase that will also put into operation the previously drilled exploratory, appraisal, and development wells, starts after the drilling of a number of production wells. A point, therefore, which should be kept in mind is that in all these phases a number of drillings are required mandatorily.The exploration, appraisal and development phases determine the project feasibility to which a commitment to make an investment minimum is associated. Thus, as already mentioned, the 1980 Elf proposal on a multi-year program for Tsimiroro projected a hundred appraisal and development wells and a minimum investment of US$ 68 million (US$178 million today). 2.5.2. MOL's program and achievements on the Tsimiroro block As noted earlier, Robert Nelson and Sam Malin, on behalf of Vuna Energy Ltd, signed with OMNIS two Production Sharing Contracts (PSC) for exploration and production of non-conventional oils on Tsimiroro and Bemolanga on April 29, 2004. No details of the said contracts have been released. Nor have they made clear the minimum agreed exploration or appraisal/development work programs, their different phases, and the minimum expenditure they are committed to over the eight-year exploration period ending in 2012. Indeed, no timing and well drilling commitment have been stated either. What was only reported is that "in 2004 an oil sampling program was led by Vuna Energy on the Tsimiroro heavy oil deposit and the Bemolanga tar sands (and that) a development plan may also be proposed at some point".  Sometime that year too, they replaced Vuna Energy Ltd. with the newly created MOL. As early as November 2005, in an interview with a Hong Kong journalist, an unnamed senior official at Madagascar Oil SA - a Madagascar-based subsidiary of MOL- had already announced that "the Tsimiroro oilfield is expected to start producing crude in 2007, (that) by late 2008 or early 2009, it will be able to produce 25000 barrels a day, (and that) daily output is expected to rise to 100000 barrels by 2011, and the long-range daily output target is 500000 barrels." 
Two months later, in January 2006, we learned that MOL would still be in the midst of the exploration phase which would have required some US$ 30 million and that exploitation activities would commence in 2010, that is 2 years or so behind the previous schedule.  A report dated May 2006, authored by Anselme Jaoriziky, Commercial/Economic Specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Madagascar, also confirmed that "Madagascar Oil, in charge of the onshore exploration of Bemolanga and Tsimiroro oilfields, expects to begin exploitation activities within four years", i.e. in 2010.  In June 2006, however, CEO Sam Malin is reported saying that MOL has confirmed the existence of major oil deposits in Tsimiroro and Bemolanga as a result of (unspecified) on-site studies,-and therefore, not as a result of well drillings- that the first barrels of (heavy) oil could even be extracted in the course of the year 2007, that the first (again unspecified) evaluation phase will be finished in the coming 18 months, ie. by December 2008, that anyway the Tsimiroro project is nearing its final stages. He added, too, that such a project can only be profitable if oil resources -that have not yet been proven- amount to some 400 million barrels, and that the level at which the production would be significant should attain 1000 barrels a day, which would necessitate US$80 million investment. But, in the event of exploitation, a several hundred million dollar funding should be sought for, and full production would be reached within 10 years (i.e by 2017). The crude oil production would initially be exported, but the installation of an on-site refinery may be considered later.  It should be stressed here that the forecast daily production has been considerably scaled down from 25000 to 1000 barrels a day. A few days earlier, CEO Sam Malin had specified that the initial production of 1000 barrels per day will be obtained from 12 wells, and that during the first five months of exploitation the heavy oil would be stored in storage tanks.The targeted average production rate would be 10000 barrels per day.  In August of the same year, he announced in a Malagasy daily that the first barrels of oil could be extracted as of the beginning of 2007 at a new higher rate of 5000 barrels a day (instead of the announced 1000 barrels a day).  But later in October, he gave a quite different picture of the past, ongoing and future activities of MOL on its Tsimiroro block. He made it clear that in fact "the company is (only) coming to the end of its first exploration phase, (that) it has (just) reprocessed existing geophysical information and acquired new data (without elaborating), (and that) the analysis of that data should (at last) offer the company a drilling plan". What is more, the first (heavy) oil production from Tsimiroro which was still planned for 2007 will be only at subcommercial levels, and assuming the early work is successful, he expects a commercial operation around 2010. The required production rate would probably be 10000 barrels a day, but even at a level of 9000 barrels a day, a return of 15% would be achieved.  Finally, in December of the same year, the pro-government Malagasy daily "Le Quotidien" gave for the first time since April 2004 an outline of MOL's program on its Tsimiroro block which would be divided into the following three phases: Phase I, from early 2007 to 2010, will consist of a seismic acquisition ("characterization of the subsoil and the hydrocarbon resources") and a pilot phase of production. The produced hydrocarbons will be stored on site during this first phase; Phase II, from 2010 to to 2015, is a production phase: it constitutes the first phase of production and will be accompanied by the "optimization of the parameters of production" and the export of the production of hydrocarbons from the port of Maintirano; Phase III, from 2016 onward, constitutes the major production phase during which oil output will be brought to its maximum and exported in the same way as done in phase II.  One should take note at this point that once again no mention is made of an exploration or appraisal/development well program designed to estimate an accurate reserve and confirm the commerciality of the Tsimiroro block, nor is the demarcation between MOL's exploration, appraisal or development activities made less ambiguous. What can only be inferred from all this is that the exploration phase is scheduled to end in 2010 though it may last until 2012 under the terms of the PSC signed in 2004, the first production phase of 1000 barrels a day pushed back to the years following 2010, and daily production at mature exploitation phase forecast at between 9000 and 10000 barrels with a view to being able to achieve a profitability of 15%. It is also vital to recall that out of the 6670 km² Tsimiroro block only 70 km² around the Folakara-Tsimiroro area are supposed to contain a probable reserve of 226 million barrels. So, the remaining 6600 km² would hold only some 83 million barrels if the low oil in place estimates of 309 million barrels determined by Netherland & Sewell Associates, Inc (NSAI) turns out to be correct. That would lead to the abandonment of the project then looked as non-profitable. The fairly important difference between the low (309 million barrels) and high (2574 million barrels) estimates of oil in place is likely to raise some concern as well. Still, in early 2007, MOL was said to envisage a heavy oil extraction pilot project which aimed at evaluating the "quality and extent" of the Tsimiroro heavy oil deposit. The project was due to start in the second quarter of 2007 and constitute the last stage of the exploration phase before the exploitation phase starts. However, the future rate of oil production at mature exploitation phase set now to begin within 10 years (i.e. in 2017) was sharply reduced again, and put at 1000 barrels a day instead of the 9000 to 10000 barrels a day previously announced.  In June, MOL's new CEO Alex Archila talked about "producing from Tsimiroro later in 2007 without then stipulating precisely that it is, before anything else, a pilot production test. To that end, they "have already spent about US$50 million on equipment, including storage tanks, a drilling rig, casing, drill pipe, consumables to drill 10 wells, trucks and cranes, (and) also bought four portable steam generators," he added.  A short time later however, OMNIS Director General Elysé Razaka made it clear to the press that it is only a "pilot project" that will last two to three years (i.e up to 2010) and will enable them to "evaluate the characteristics (and) processing of (their) products as well as the production techniques". He thereby confirmed what he said earlier, that in this first stage "it is not yet a matter of oil production but just a pilot test".  And some time after this, he declared that ongoing and planned work on Tsimiroro will involve the installation of the pilot unit for the production of heavy oil, including a hydraulic pump unit and tanks for the storage of heavy oil, raw water and diesel fuel. The extracted heavy oils will be stored in the tanks for three years, during which time analyses will be carried out in order to determine their "nature", and subsequently the equipment and technology required for their exploitation. The year 2007 will see too the drilling of eight (uncategorized) wells.  And yet, in an October interview with a Malagasy daily, CEO Alex Archila pointed out that actually only four wells instead of the previously planned 12, 10, or 8, were drilled, and only two of them will undergo a steam injection pilot test. He reported too that the projected maximum pilot production of 1000 barrels a day- has been determined with a computerized model. It was assumed that if 10 steam-injected wells were put into operation, each of them would produce approximately 100 barrels a day. But he cautiously warned that they are actually still in the exploration phase of all their blocks, including the Tsimiroro heavy oil and Bemolanga oil sands blocks, so that the oil potentials of these latter two will not be known with more accuracy, not at least until two years from now (i.e not before 2009). In addition, he laid great stress on the "pilot" nature of the project underway at Tsimiroro that has been designed only "to test the effectivess of the steam injection" technique of extracting heavy oil. As a result, the pilot production will be intended neither for exportation nor for local utilization, but stored in the on-site tanks at the moment.  To conclude on the MOL's activities on its Tsimiroro block, it is crystal clear that MOL is still in the midst of an exploration phase. The true volume of heavy oil that Tsimiroro may contain remains unknown and the different past estimates of oil in place have yet to be proved by a number of appraisal wells. As mentioned in the introduction, MOL has conducted this year (2008) two successful pilot production tests that yielded 45 and 450 barrels a day, respectively. Undoubtedly, this step has made it possible to test the effectiveness of the thermal technique applied to recover heavy oil and to learn more about the quality of reservoirs and the physical properties of heavy oil, but, in no way, it brings something extra to the confirmation of the oil in place resource estimates. The commercial viability of the resource potential, or whether currently commercial recovery processes will be applicable, cannot be determined without further drilling, testing and analysis. If we use the 1980 ELF Tsimiroro project as a point of comparison, the appraisal and developement of the deposit will still require a hundred well drillings before a daily average production of 9000 to10000 barrels of heavy oil can be contemplated. In the matter of well drilling cost: in 1984, according to oil companies operating then in Madagascar, the drilling of an exploration well to a depth of 3000 meters there cost US10 million (US$ 20.7 million today), while, in 1993, that of an appraisal well to a depth of 2600 meters amounted to about US$7.5 million (US$11.2 million today). The cost of a hundred wells will then be much far higher than the remainder of the US$ 200 million gathered by MOL. So there is still a long way to go before knowing if the Tsimiroro discovery is commercial and deciding to go ahead with its development. Meanwhile, it appears sensible enough to recommend: 1° the implementation of a Mini-sosie seismic survey in order to investigate the evolution in depth of the Amboloando sandstones; 2° the acquisition of magnetic data on the ground in order to produce a residual magnetic map that will highlight the dykes which are not visible on the surface. As a matter of fact the dykes, whether they are visible on the surface or not, appear as vertical walls that partition the zone in Tsimiroro and Bemolanga as well. They will be of great help in the locating of future appraisal/development wells. 3° The Bemolanga oilsands deposit 3.1 Background The region of Bemolanga whose Laborde coordinates are X= 935 and Y= 250 is a 470-km drive from Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar. The Bemolanga oil sands that consist of bituminous sandstones are located in the northern part of the onshore Morondava Basin north of the Tsimiroro heavy oil field and east of the town of Morafenobe, about 120 km from the coast, and extend over an area of some 1000 km². Though the Bemolanga block (3102) acquired by MOL spans over 7175 km², the zone of interest covers only an area of 424km² and is estimated to contain 3 billion tons of bitumen following studies by OMNIS. A source who appraised the Bemolanga field before Madagascar Oil took the licence in 2004 reportedly said that it could contain anything between 4bn and 10bn barrels of oil.  An appraisal report prepared by DeGolyer & MacNaughton on account of MOL estimated a P50 oil in place (OIP) volume of 16.6 billion barrels and put "recoverable reserves" at 9.8 billion barrels.  Other estimates have been higher, in the neighborhood of 20 billion barrels  OMNIS Director General, Elisé Razaka, even went to the point of announcing that Bemolanga has about "2 billion barrels of proven reserves" and a projection on reserves is even likely to be over 20 billion barrels. 3.2 Exploration history of Bemolanga The search for hydrocarbons that has been going on in Madagascar since the early part of the 20th century has concentrated on the Bemolanga area because of the visible bitumen-bearing outcrops in the area. The bitumen-impregnated sandstones there have been known for a long time and have been used locally. As far back as 1922, L. Dumas, a French geologist, had already raised the issue of Bemolanga bituminous sandstones in regard to the petroleum question in Madagascar. H. Bésairie and Gence who studied the question of oil presence in the Andrafiavelo and Bemolanga areas in 1926 concluded later that the estimated volume of existing bituminous sandstones was not enough for an industrial extraction to be profitable. In the thirties, the Compagnie Française des Pétroles (CFP) undertook some drillings that proved to be unsuccessful. The exploration activities came to a halt at the outbreak of the WW II. After the hostilities had ended, the "Syndicat d' Études et de Recherches Pétrolières" or SERP (Union for Oil Survey and Research) and later the "Société des Pétroles de Madagascar" or SPM resumed exploration and conducted several drillings but this time in the the southern part of the Morondava Basin until the late 1950s. Thereafter, oil research focused again around Folakara, Tsimiroro and Bemolanga where a dozen of core drillings and a few wells were implemented. 3.3 OMNIS' achievements in Bemolanga Almost as soon as it was created in 1976, OMNIS carried out an appraisal well program on the Bemolanga zone VI which is considered as its most promising part and lies in an area of 8 km². Subsequent to a financing from the European Investment Bank (EIB), OMNIS and the "Companie Européenne des Pétrole" - an affiliate to the group of the famous, French, late communist billionaire Gaston Doumeng-, have established in the early 1980s that this zone VI has a proven reserve of 367 million tons of bituminous sandstones . In parallel with this drilling campaign, laboratory studies of bitumen recovery methods and pilot production tests were carried out. A trial of the Clark hot water extraction process for separating bitumen and sand was conducted in collaboration with the Alberta Research Coucil in Canada from 1976 to 1978. Though efficient for oil sands, the Clark process proved to be unsuitable for the Bemolanga bituminous sandstone. From 1979 to 1980, the German Consortium Lurgi-Klockner performed laboratory tests of the Lurgi thermal process, followed by a pilot scale production test that processed 55 tons of sandstones at the rate of 5 tons per hour. The process was not adopted by OMNIS because its maximum processing capacity of 10000 tons of sandstones per day was considered inadequate.
From 1981 to 1982, Klockner and Ingeco from Italy tested the RTR solvent extraction process and conducted too a pilot scale production test that processed 60 tons of sandstones at the rate of 1 ton per hour. Still, the funds providers - the World Bank and the European Investment Bank (EIB), thereafter denied funding for the scaling-up of this pilot unit to a commercial size plant capable of processing 12500 tons of sandstones a day. From 1983 to 1986, AOSTRA (Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority) and UMATAC undertook tests of the Taciuk process, followed by a pilot scale production test that processed 100 tons of sandstones at the rate of 6 tons per hour. A feasibility study on processing 25000 to 50000 tons of sandstones a day was also conducted. At the end of 1986, the OMNIS reached the conclusion that it would possible to install an industrial facility capable to produce 15000 barrels of bitumen a day by 1987. And if 50000 tons of sandstones were to be processed daily, then the life span of the already proven reserves of 367 million tons of bituminous sandstones would be about 20 years. 3.4 MOL's activities intended for, and carried out in Bemolanga Up to now, MOL's intended activities in Bemolanga have not yet produced anything concrete. Actually, a clear commitment to a minimum exploration work program and to the relevant minimum expenditure that would have been endorsed by OMNIS has never been mentioned publicly. In 2004, Vuna Energy, the forerunner company to MOL which signed the PSCs with OMNIS, is only reported to have carried out an oil sampling program on the Tsimiroro heavy oil deposit and the Bemolanga tar sands.  In October 2006, CEO Sam Malin explained that Bemolanga is just the "third phase" of his "plan of action" after first exploring across six blocks, and secondly, establishing "plans to develop" Tsimiroro heavy oil by using the "the steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) technique that has been successful in Canada". In this phase, the company will probably use mining techniques, and "if the company uses wells, it could drill as many as 500". The recovery factor is hoped to be "between 12% and 50% of the oil in place." The company is coring wells and conducting geophysical work, but because of the size of the field, the company is looking for an appropriate partner.  A year later, in the previously mentioned interview with the Malagasy daily "Le Quotidien", CEO Alex Archila stressed that actually they are "in the of the precocious phase of the evaluation of (their) resources", that they are "in the exploration phase for all our contracts, which means that (they) will "explore", gather data and study the potential Bemolanga and Tsimiroro and that of the other blocs, (that they) will need at least two years before knowing with more certainty what this can give"  In the CEO statement of January 2008 , Alex Archila gave a summary of their achievements in the following terms: ·"In the Bemolanga deposit coring operations have continued and have further confirmed and defined contingent resources. ·To date, we have drilled a total of 15 cores in different areas of Bemolanga, and are undertaking two studies in Canada to assess different aspects of bitumen extraction under water-based and retort processes. ·We expect to drill a total of 45 additional cores during 2008, with a program that will start in May, after the rains subside. ·Additionally, significant technical and engineering studies were performed during 2007. ·Norwest Corporation from Canada performed an assessment of oil in place and recoverable resources at Bemolanga based on water-based extraction process. ·In addition to this study, Norwest undertook a full-cycle cost study, providing initial estimates of capital and operating costs for the development of a 120000 barrels per day mine operation. Further technical studies and core analysis are currently being performed in Canada. ·We also hired Kellogg Brown and Root to assess export infrastructure and upgrading options for the Bemolanga bitumen. A set of different alternatives to produce dilbit (bitumen and diluent blend) and three qualities of synthetic crude were identified..." As to when, where, how, at what depths, for what objectives and goals, and at what cost the 15 cores were drilled, we may note, no details were supplied. The same is true as well for the "45 additional cores" scheduled for 2008. The results of the various technical studies and analyses said to have been conducted in Canada throughout 2007 are still unknown to date (early September, 2008). It also appears that MOL has designs on mining undetermined volumes of sandstones in order to extract 120000 barrels of bitumen a day, and upgrading them into synthetic crude oil. However no indication has yet been given as to how high the investment required for these extraction and upgrading projects will go. Nor has an outline of a tentative timetable. For comparison purposes, it is worth recalling that already in 1980 the "Compagnie Européenne des Pétroles" in partnership with OMNIS put at US$300 million (US$785 million today) the value of a Bemolanga investment project that involved open-pit mining and extraction of bitumen from the processing of 50000 tons of sandstone a day. To that should be added an estimated US500 to US$700 million (around US$1300 to US$1831 million today) for investment in transportation, bitumen refinery, and upgrading the port facilities at Maintirano, which would bring the total to between US$800 and 1000 million, that is, between approximately current US$ 2.1 and 2.6 billion. Finally, in July 2008, we vaguely learned that "on the Bemolanga/Tsimiroro tar sands, MOL is still engaged in an active shallow drilling programme, supplemented with seismic."  Curiously enough, MOL has not contemplated to resume the above-mentioned open-pit mining exploitation of Bemolanga zone VI where the existence of 367 million tons of bituminous sandstones was proved by OMNIS and the "Compagnie Européenne des Pétroles" as far back as the early 1980s. The resumption, updating and implementation of the 1987 AOSTRA-UMATAC project in partnership with the OMNIS would not at all prevent MOL from carrying out its potential 500 well drilling program as Bemolanga is vast, provided, of course, that adequate funds are on hand. Actually, MOL has never made a mystery of its waiting strategy until it succeeds in its search for a financially powerful partner-a "strategic partner for the development and operation of the mining resource" of Bemolanga. To that end, as previously stated, right after the signing of contracts with OMNIS, MOL entered into farm out dicussions with Chinese E&P companies and the Canadian oil giant Nexen as well. But so far, MOL's exploration activities in Bemolanga as well as their outcome remain vague and shrouded in mystery to the general public. 4°The conventional oil and gas blocks As reported at the outset of this review, MOL also holds a 100% working interest in four conventional oil and gas blocks totalling 39110 km². However, more than four years after it was granted the exploration permits, MOL’s exploration activities completed or underway in these blocks seem once again to be next to nil, with a particular view to the Manambolo (3105), Manandaza (3107) and Majunga South (2103) blocks. In a reply to a question from a journalist with the Malagasy daily "Le Quotidien" about MOL's plans for its conventional oil and gas blocks as well as about their current state of advancement in October 2007, CEO Alex Archila answered evasively: "We have shooted 125 km of seismic and invested a lot of money and time to perform a regional assessment of the exploration of our blocks. As you know, other operators had drilled wells unsuccessfully in our blocks. What we are now doing is evaluating carefully the additional data that we must acquire, and examining what additional work must be carried out to enable us to find hydrocarbons"  No details were given about where, on which block, and when the seismic shooting was conducted as well as about its cost. Indeed, a few historical facts should be usefully recalled here, namely: - The discovery of the first gas field that took place in Manambolo in 1987; - The recovery of ten barrels of 41°API light oil from Manandaza 1 in 1991; - The encountering of gas shows in Majunga South in the years 1973-1974 It is obvious that the first two blocks imperatively require a certain number of appraisal/development wells with the aim to ascertain their commercial viability, while additional exploration work must be carried out in the coastal area of Majunga South. Furthermore, it is worth noting, too, that as earlier as 1988, OMNIS had already conducted economic studies on the Manambolo gas deposit, the reserve potential of which was estimated at 2.3 billion m³. Assuming a gas recovery rate of 85% and a production rate of 64000 m³ a day, plans were considered to set up a 17 megawatt gas operated power station, which would extend the life span of the deposit to 85 years.The amount of investment was then estimated at US$20 million (around US$37 million today) and included one appraisal/production well, a gas operated power station, and associated infrastructure. Annual operating costs were assessed at US$720000 (US$1.32 million today). Finally, one recalls that at some time when he was still CEO of MOL, Sam Malin hinted that in the future they could make use of the West Manambolo gas that is on the company’s Morondava Basin property, to produce steam for the extraction of heavy oil in Tsimiroro. Later, new CEO Alex Archila reiterated this possibility. Attention should be drawn here to the fact that if one referred to the terms of the agreement concluded in 1982 between AMOCO -the then holder of the Manambolo license- and OMNIS, MOL would be under the obligation to repay 10 times the amount of expenditure incurred on West Manambolo by OMNIS. Final remarks At the closing of this review, the following final observations and conclusions may be made: - Madagascar Oil did not comply with the usual approach to oil exploration as regards the Tsimiroro project in that neither the minimum work program nor the agreed minimum exploration/appraisal expenditure to be incurred, nor the amount of time required for the feasibility study stage had been clearly spelled out at the outset. There is no explicit mention, in particular, of a clear-cut appraisal well program designed to verify the validity of the estimates of the volume of heavy oil in place. For comparison purposes, let us emphasize that the Tsimiroro Elf project in the late 1970s, early 1980s, planned a hundred exploration/appraisal drillings over five years to that end, the current cost of which will certain be beyond the reach of a small company like MOL. MOL, for its part, spoke only about core analyses, probably coming from former drillings, since it carried out only two or three wells so far. - The same criticisms may also be raised about the approach to Bemolanga. - The unavailability of funds to carry out an active exploration and appraisal/development drilling program is at the heart of the shortcomings noted throughout the review of MOL's activities in Tsimiroro and Bemolanga. It is well known that heavy oil or bitumen projects such the ones in Tsimiroro or Bemolanga are large undertakings and very capital intensive. As CEO Alex Archila himself put it: "None of the mining projects in Canada represent less than a $5 billion investment"  They are obviously not within the reach of wildcatters and startup companies. In the same line, the size of the four conventional oil and gas blocks held by MOL speaks by itself of the size of funds needed for their exploration and appraisal, which requires E&P companies with strong financial credentials. - MOL quite obviously does not possess the financial standing to simultaneously undertake the development of Bemolanga and Tsimiroro, the evaluation of Manandaza and Manambolo, and the exploration of Morondava and South Mahajanga. So, one cannot help but be flabbergasted that OMNIS awarded over a third of the entire Malagasy sedimentary basins to one sole company- a start-up one without neither financial standing nor track records- while the remainder was divided among a dozen bidders. - That said, it seems that MOL's strategy in Madagascar simply came down to grab the maximum of thought to be promising oil or gas blocks without a clear-cut commitment to a minimum exploration /appraisal work program and minimum expenditure, taking advantage of what CEO Alex Archila termed a "supportive government". Thus, E&P companies of higher financial standing than MOL that may be interested in Madagascar will be excluded for many years unless they enter into a farm-in agreement with MOL, which is strongly detrimental to the well-understood interests of OMNIS and the Malagasy State. Postscript A new development has come up recently with the announcement on September 17 that MOL has finally managed to farm out 60 percent of its interests in Bemolanga to Total S.A., one of the "supermajor" oil companies in the world, which is, unsurprisingly, set to become operator of the licence.  Unsurprisingly, too, no further details of the financial terms of the farm-out agreement have been divulged as yet. From what has been reported in the media, the exploitation of the Bemolanga bituminous sandstones will spread out over a period of 30 years, and the two companies would invest to the tune of US$140 million during an appraisal phase that is scheduled to last 4 years. In a first stage that is slated to cost US$30 million and will extend over 2 years, 60 core drills will be drilled at shallow depths to further delineate the block's potential. Then, in a second stage that will also last for 2 years, a pilot production plant estimated at US$100 million will be set up in order to define the parameters to be used for a large scale development of the permit.  However Total senior overseer of the Bemolanga project Jérôme Roux hastened to set the record straight that only if the results of a first two year exploration period are conclusive, then, over the next two year exploration phase, they will proceed with only further drillings (and therefore not with the assembly of a pilot production plant) "in order to be able to establish the profile of the deposit and collect accurate information on its quality at every place". He pointed out that the profitability of the exploitation requires that the bitumen content of the Bemolanga deposit be between 7 and 8%.  Note should be taken too of the different figures given by the Malagasy daily "L'Express de Madagascar" that put the total investment at US$170 million during a five-year phase of appraisal activity, of which US70 million will be allocated to core drillings.  So, as it stands now, Total, too, has not contemplated to exploit the Zone VI of Bemolanga where OMNIS had already proven the existence of 367 million tons of bituminous sandstones in the early 1980s, and then undertaken a feasibility regarding the daily processing of 50000 tons of sandstones.
Only in the event of positive results from its 4-year exploration/appraisal program, Total might consider the daily production of 180000 barrels of oil in about a dozen years. But no explicit mention is made of the setting up of a plant for the upgrading of the bitumen extracted into the synthetic oil that would be produced. Anyway, for the immediate future, the two companies have pledged to fund the rehabilitation of a section of the road connecting Tsiroanomandidy and Morafenobe along with other various charity work in the administrative region (Melaky) that covers the Bemolanga field to the tune of US10 million. Finally, regarding Tsimiroro, MOL has disclosed that "results from the 2008 exploration drilling campaign have confirmed approximately 500 million barrels in place".  By "2008 exploration drilling campain", one should understand here not several "appraisal wells" that have established proven reserves but essentially the two pilot production tests that yielded 45 and 450 barrels a day, respectively and were designed "to test the effectivess of the steam injection" technique of extracting heavy oil.
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