When asked about the future of Cantarell, Carlos Morales Gil, Director General of Pemex Exploration and Production, says that the company still sees Cantarell as a significant reserve base: “We have so far recovered 42% of the original oil in place at Cantarell, and the projections we have allow us to establish that we are going to recover more than 50% before the field is abandoned. This means that there is still around 10%, or around 3.5 billion bbl of oil, that we will produce in the next 20 years or so.”
Morales Gil explains the history behind the exploitation of Cantarell in detail, showing at the same time the importance that Pemex still places on the social aspect of its mandate as a national oil company. “In human terms, the super giant field contributed enormously to the public finances of the country for many years, and is still an important contributor today. Since the reservoir was first developed, Pemex managed it very well. The first wells that were drilled were very shallow, and it was not long before the company realized that these wells were not going to last, and would soon start to produce only gas. As a result of this, we started to drill to greater depths. Based on the data we gathered at the beginning of the 1980s, we soon started to understand that these deeper wells would enable Cantarell to produce upwards of 1 million bbl/day.”
It was around this time that the decision was taken to exploit Cantarell with a focus on maximizing the value that could be obtained from the field. Over the following years, new facilities were built, additional wells were drilled, nitrogen was injected, and Cantarell eventually peaked at 2.21 million bbl/day in 2003. In other fields, such as Abkatún, Pol, and Ku-Maloob-Zaap, Pemex took a different approach, extracting the reserves in such a way that a production plateau would be maintained for as long as possible. “Neither decision was incorrect; they were just taken at times when Pemex had different priorities,” explains Morales Gil.
Detailing the strategy for Cantarell in 2011, Morales Gil explains that Pemex focused on stopping the production decline and returning Cantarell to production growth through a combination of new wells, the application of new technology, and changing wells from gas lift to electric submergible pumps (ESPs). The company also looked at managing water and gas production at its declining wells. Morales Gil says that the major challenge throughout 2011 was the shortage of jack-up rigs, and that this is something that Pemex will address in 2012. “During 2011, we had to void several tenders for jack-ups due to a lack of offers. Today, this lack of jack-up rigs affects not only the Cantarell project but also other shallow water fields in the Mexican gulf. This is something that we are currently addressing, and in the mid-term at Cantarell we expect to see a slight increase in production, once we get the facilities for water and gas handling in place, and contract all the rigs we need to fulfil our drilling plans,” he says. After producing 449,000 bbl/day in 2011, this year’s production target for Cantarell will be around 480,000 bbl/day, Morales Gil says.