Analysis: Brazil strikes oil ... again

By CARMEN GENTILE, UPI Energy Correspondent   |   June 4, 2008 at 5:08 PM
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MIAMI, June 4 (UPI) -- Brazil's oil bounty apparently continues to grow with the discovery of a new deposit of sweet crude off the coast of Sao Paulo state, according to energy officials.

While the country's state energy company Petrobras made no prediction for what the newly discovered BMS-40 block might hold, officials did note that it was at a depth shallower than previous large deposits discovered in the vicinity.

However, Petrobras did note that the site could have a per-well production level of 12,000 barrels a day.

Following its discovery, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said that the addition of the new discovery -- coupled with other recent finds believed to hold anywhere between 10 billion and 18 billion barrels -- had the potential to turn Brazil "into one of the top three countries in the world in terms of reserves."

Brazil already has 12 billion barrels of proven reserves that, if supplemented by the suggested reserves in the recently discovered Tupi, Carioca, Jupiter and Pao de Acucar oil fields, would place it second on the list in the Western Hemisphere behind Venezuela and would surpass the estimated 24 billion barrels in U.S. reserves.

Some analysts note that it's still too early to anoint Brazil a major petroleum player despite the recent petroleum bounty that's being discovered off its southeastern coast.

"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 use domestically.

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 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.

"I don't think it's going to revolutionize the energy picture (in Latin America), at least not in the next decade," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a sentiment echoed by numerous oil experts.

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