Vermilion begins exploratory drilling off France

Doris Leblond
OGJ Correspondent

PARIS, Aug. 27 -- Vermilion Energy Trust, Calgary, and partners Verenex Energy Inc., Calgary, and Bordeaux Energy Inc., Vancouver, on Aug. 26 began drilling the Orca 1 exploratory well on the Aquitaine Maritime permit 40-45 km in the Bay of Biscay off southwestern France. The acreage covers 1,211 sq km, both on and offshore, in the northern portion of the basin (OGJ Online, Jan. 10, 2007).

A prospective resources report prepared by DeGolyer and MacNaughton Jan. 31 indicated that the structure could contain as much as 500 million bbl of oil, according to Verenex Energy.

Operations earlier were delayed because UK-based Peak Well Management Ltd.'s Byford Dolphin drill ship, a 12-anchor Norwegian semisubmersible, had to be towed from the Shetland Islands in the North Sea to France. The delay also increased the cost of the well to $40-45 million from $25-30 million. The full cost of Orca 1 should amount to $50-52 million, including the 3D seismic shot in 2005 that provided "excellent results," said Vermilion Chairman and CEO Daniel Goulet.

French authorities extended the exploration duration to end in September. The French military has a missile testing range in the area of the exploration permit, and drilling operations must complete within that window, said Bordeaux. Vermilion Director of Investor Relations Paul Beique told OGJ he is confident operations will be completed within the designated time frame (OGJ Online, July 20, 2007).

Orca 1 is being drilled in 115 m of water, targeting the largest of six structures identified within the permit—a Lower and Upper Cretacious formation at 2,600 m. Beique told OGJ the original interpretation of seismic data had indicated a fairly thin seal, but the 3D seismic disclosed a shift in the rock sealing thicker than previously thought.

Results of the exploration well should be posted in late October. Additional work based on Orca 1 may include delineation of Orca, exploration drilling on the other prospects of the Aquitaine Maritime and investigation of potential development scenarios such as using a fixed platform or a floating production, storage, and offloading vessel.

In what could turn out to be a related opportunity if Orca 1 finds oil, Vermilion's France-based unit Vermilion REP SAS has just been granted the offshore Aquila permit between the shore and the Aquitaine Maritime permit. But preliminary work must first be carried out on under a program yet to be worked out, Goulet told OGJ.

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