Africa’s offshore rigs count climbs to new highs amidst drilling frenzy

Africa’s offshore rigs count has kept growing since the start of 2023, with 36 drilling rigs contracted this year so far. Recent contract extensions and new contract awards have confirmed 2023 as one of the biggest years for offshore drilling activity on the continent in a decade, shows the new Offshore Rigs Tracker released by Hawilti and the Caverton Offshore Support Group (COSG) Plc.

Nigeria is playing catch up

Nigeria, who has lost its position of top African oil producers several times on the back of repeated crude theft and pipeline vandalism, is showing signs of recovery. Several of the rigs mobilised offshore Nigeria have been extended, including the Valaris DS-10 for SNEPCo and Shelf Drilling’s Baltic and Mentor rigs for TotalEnergies and First E&P respectively.

In addition, Shelf Drilling has also secured new contracts for the Adriatic I and the Scepterunits which are providing a boost to Nigeria’s offshore drilling activity. The former is for drilling on Ebok Field scheduled between May and August this year, while the latter is for a much longer, 2-year contract for an undisclosed operator.

In total, Nigeria will see eight offshore drilling campaigns take place this year at any point in time, putting it at the same level as Angola. The southern African country had long held the position of top drilling destination on the continent as international oil companies (IOCs) have several rig mobilised on long-term contracts there to support infill, development, and exploratory drilling in deep-water.

“The recovery of Nigeria’s offshore drilling activity is welcome news as the industry continues to be a main driver of the Nigerian economy. This is in turn providing unique opportunities for aviation services providers to pursue growth opportunities and provide safe and sustainable solutions to transport workers and equipment to offshore drilling rigs and platforms,” said Capt Ibrahim Bello, Managing Director at Caverton Helicopters. “Such market activity also contributes to the development of other sectors such as search and rescue, VIP transport, and executive charter services,” he added.

TotalEnergies is leading the pack

The French major has imposed itself as the most active operator offshore Africa this year, with a total of eight rigs mobilised throughout 2023, including three in Angola, two in Nigeria, two in Namibia, and one in West Africa whose destination is yet to be disclosed.

The company’s Namibian campaign represents $300 million of investment to appraise its Venus discovery, drill the Nara prospect, and execute drill stem tests (DSTs).

In Nigeria, TotalEnergies is also drilling the Ntokon Central shallow water prospect on OML 102, but more importantly executing a multi-well deep-water campaign on its Egina and Akpo hubs within OML 130. Egina is notably experiencing a rapid production decline which the drilling campaign seeks to address. Up to nine wells are scheduled on both Egina and Akpo, including potential exploratory drilling of nearby prospects.

Exploration is heating up

Exploration activity is also supporting the drilling momentum, with rigs mobilised across frontier markets to spud several much-anticipated wildcats.

Eni has contracted the Capella drillship to drill the Raia-1X well offshore Mozambique, with results yet to be announced. New rig contracts have also been awarded by Galp to spud two wells offshore Namibia later this year, and by Shell to drill a wildcat offshore Mauritania at the end of 2023.

“Any new discovery is likely to provide further impetus to explore African basins and make the best of the current high oil prices cycle,” noted Mickael Vogel, Director & Head of Research at Hawilti. “However, the rigs market remain extremely tight and under supplied. High mobilisation rates and lack of rig availability is already slowing down the pace of activity and delaying several drilling plans by operators offshore Africa.”


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