In his presentation to Cabinet on Tuesday, June 15, the Director of the Geology and Petroleum Department, Andre Cho, indicated that Belize’s offshore potential is an estimated US$912.5 million yearly, or over BZ$1.8 billion. That estimate, said Cho, is derived from calculations based on what is known of the geology of offshore Belize.
Belize Natural Energy (BNE), the only one of the 18 existing petroleum companies with Belizean contracts that is producing, turns out 4,200 bbl per day from the Spanish Lookout field, estimated at 14 million barrels total and grossing US $102 million annually. The offshore oilfields could net, said Cho, 150 million barrels at an estimated production rate of 50,000 barrels a day and a market price for crude at US$50 per barrel.
Still, he pointed to a possibly greater potential, citing a Mexican oil field producing 1 million barrels a day.
His presentation showed that 16 offshore wells have been drilled, some by big-name companies such as Shell, Esso, Texaco, and Anschutz, at places such as Turneffe Atoll and the Basil Jones area of San Pedro in Northern Belize, between 1958 and 2007, the deepest going to 16,000 feet at Palmetto Caye. The operation there, as was the case with two others, found “live” oil shows (as opposed to dead oil shows of crude that had already been deteriorating and so not favorable for exploration). However, when that finding was made by a company that went by the name of Phillips, there was no production testing.
Cho listed six companies that have concessions to drill offshore – among them being the controversial Island Oil, which is on record as being 99.9% owned by Petdegua, a company registered in Guatemala. According to Cho, the Petdegua shares in Island Oil are now owned by American Steve Reilly. Island Oil was due to drive its first well in 2007. Cho said that an exploration well (a stratigraphic core well) dug 3,000 feet into the sea off Monkey River, South Stann Creek, did not go far enough to hit the sedimentary rocks.
He showed a slide of the Rocky Point area of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye. “Oil has been washing up there for a very long time,” said Cho, pointing to maps from the 1700’s. The oil, he said, is more than likely coming from deep offshore oil seeps.
Cho also said that his department would recommend to Cabinet that from here on, no more small independent companies should be granted petroleum concessions.
He noted that there are two pending applications for vacant blocks – one coming from BNE, which is interested in further onshore acreage; the other coming from Taiwanese investors who are interested in both offshore and onshore.
There is still no indication from the Government, or from the two technical staff, Cho and Alegria, that there is a move to establish a policy of making certain parts of Belize off-limits to petroleum exploration, despite the call to the Government of Belize by a series of organizations and individual activists, which have formed the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, to ban offshore drilling as well as drilling in protected areas of Belize.
One noteworthy development is that, in light of recent concerns over the existing environmental laws that say that an Environmental Impact Assessment is not necessarily required in the petroleum exploration phase, Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria, said that the Government of Belize would move to make certain aspects of petroleum exploration—such as drilling an exploration well—require an EIA, though seismic testing procedures that they deem non-intrusive would not be included under the list of activities that would require an EIA.
According to Cho, “Cabinet asked us for a Cabinet paper with recommendations. We’ll be working on that, because we can’t say we just have to ban offshore drilling. The offshore region of our country – it’s our country – has a lot of potential for large oilfields, that if we find them and produce them responsibly, we can generate a lot of revenues to develop Belize and make it into a booming economy where life is good for everybody.”
The potential for southern Belize, said Cho, is even greater than onshore. A Business News America article dated February 9, 2001, reporting on the Petdegua concession, quoted reserves of petroleum at an estimated 553.7 million to 3.32 billion barrels of crude, without citing the exact source of that information.
Companies with petroleum concessions
Northern Spirit Resources Inc. (Alberta, Canada)
BCH International, Inc. (Zaid Flores, Belize)
ZMT International, Inc. (Zaid Flores, Belize)
OPIC Resource Corporation (Taiwan)
Perenco Belize Ltd. (Guatemala, Anglo-French company)
US Capital Energy Belize Ltd. (Colorado, USA)
BelGeo Ltd., Wendell R. Halley, Managing Director, of TX, USA
Blue Creek Exploration Ltd. (BZ City, Belize)
Miles Tropical Energy Ltd. (Illinois, USA)
PetroBelize Company Ltd. (Belmopan, Belize)
Princess Petroleum Ltd. (Newtown Barracks, Belize)
Providence Energy Belize Ltd. (TX, USA)
SOL [Spark of Light] Oil Belize Ltd. (Marina Towers, Belize)
Spartan Petroleum Corporation, Larry Jones, President, Texas, USA
Island Oil Belize Ltd. (San Francisco, CA., Petdegua, Guatemala)
West Bay Exploration Belize Ltd. (Michigan, USA)
Belize Natural Energy Ltd. (Irish investors)
RSM Production Corporation (Colorado, USA)
(Story from the Tuesday, June 15, 2010, edition of The Adele Ramos Show, KREM Radio/KREM TV.)