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Analysis: Brazil makes another oil find

By CARMEN GENTILE, UPI ENERGY CORRESPONDENT   |   Aug. 13, 2008 at 10:22 AM   |   Comments

MIAMI, Aug. 13 (UPI) -- Brazil has discovered yet another offshore oil field, this time a light-crude find neighboring the 5 billion to 8 billion barrel Tupi oil field discovered last year.

The new discovery in the oil-rich Santos Basin is located about 140 miles off the coast of Rio de Janeiro and more than a mile below sea level, making the extraction of the discovery a particular challenge for Brazil's state-run energy firm Petrobras and its foreign partners.

The discovery -- a yet undetermined volume -- was made by a group including Petrobras, Portugal's Galp Energia and Britain's BG Group.

Though the quantity of the discovery, dubbed Iara, remains undetermined, the quality of the easily refined light crude found there sparked excitement among the partners.

"We are delighted to report another material discovery with Iara," said BG Group Chief Executive Frank Chapman. "The exceptional sequence and scale of our drilling success in this area reflects the world-class status of the … Santos Basin, to which BG Group has substantial exposure through our extensive license interests."

The recent discovery has helped bolster Petrobras' already soaring stocks, analysts said following a report on the company's second-quarter profits, up nearly 30 percent to $5.4 billion compared with the same period in 2007.

"It is a great pleasure to announce the largest profit in the company's history," the president of Petrobras, Jose Sergio Gabrielli, said Tuesday.

While new discoveries and soaring profits have Brazilian energy officials boasting, much of Brazil's potential offshore oil wealth remains just that, say some experts.

"All of the findings so far are probable … they aren't proven yet," Jorge Pinon, energy fellow for the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami, told United Press International.

Along with the uncertainty about just how much oil lies beneath the Atlantic off Brazil is the difficulty in retrieving it from beneath thousands of feet of water and salt deposits under the ocean floor.

Though Petrobras is a world leader in offshore oil drilling, extracting oil from extreme depths is a difficult and costly endeavor, Pinon noted.

"It's not that Brazil doesn't have the technological know-how -- the industry as a whole doesn't have the experience," he said. "It's a new geological frontier."

Difficulties aside, the find could prove to be yet another example of Brazil's recent fortunes in the petroleum sector.

In 2006 Brazil became a net exporter of oil after decades of dependence, though it still must import light crude for domestic use.

A year later, Petrobras unveiled its discovery of the Tupi oil field, a reserve believed to hold between 5 billion and 8 billion barrels. The Tupi field became the first of a string of discoveries off the shore of Sao Paulo state that energy officials boasted would place Brazil among the ranks of the world's largest petroleum exporters. At the time, Petrobras officials said the discovery of the Tupi oil field could launch Brazil into the Top 10 oil producers in the world.

While the string of discoveries has prompted excitement at home and has been a proven boost to Petrobras' share value, which has more than doubled in the last 12 months, some recommend exercising caution before declaring Brazil a bona fide petroleum giant.

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(e-mail: energy@upi.com)

© 2008 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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