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Angola s oil windfall is largely driven by the rise in global oil prices. But new discoveries of oil, thanks to deep-water technology, have also been critical.

Angola’s oil windfall is largely driven by the rise in global oil prices. But new discoveries of oil, thanks to deep-water technology, have also been critical.

Until a few years ago, the southwest African nation had been a relatively minor player on the world oil market. Its capacity had steadily grown from 400,000 barrels a day in 1990 to 700,000 in 2000, still less than 1 percent of the global total.

But in the mid-1990s, the government made a key decision: It opened bidding for drilling in water more than 3,500 feet deep. At that time, major oil companies were just putting into practice technologies in the Gulf of Mexico that allowed them to extract oil in deep water.

They had developed seismic imaging that could accurately find the reservoirs of oil. They had devised sturdier oil platforms and drilling systems to withstand large waves and strong currents found far offshore. And they had built computer and robotics systems that could complete deep-water tasks without the need for divers.

”All the easy oil and gas in the world has pretty much been found,’ said William J. Cummings, ExxonMobil’s spokesman in Angola. ”Now comes the harder work in finding and producing oil from more challenging environments and work areas.’

In 1994, ExxonMobil’s affiliate in Angola, Esso Angola, acquired the license for Block 15, a large expanse of water about 90 miles offshore from northern Angola. It has become a bonanza, producing 550,000 barrels of oil a day, and, on average, the oil from the area fills up a supertanker every four days, primarily for export to refineries in the United States and China. Angola hopes to produce 2 million barrels a day by 2008, tripling production in eight years.

Block 15 also is one of ExxonMobil’s most important new discoveries. In the past two years, 50 percent of the company’s new oil finds came in Africa, and three-quarters of the discoveries in Africa were from Block 15.

Now technology is being used in what the industry calls ”ultradeep’ water, depths of 6,000 feet or more. Farther offshore from Block 15, the oil giant BP has discovered nine oil reservoirs in one such area. Up and down the coast of West Africa, as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, the North Sea, and in waters off Asia and Australia, oil companies are going ever deeper in the search for oil.

One day recently, an Esso helicopter flew from its shore base in northern Angola, near the town of Soyo, for 45 minutes over the open Atlantic before approaching what seemed to be a colorful supertanker. It was Kizomba B, an ExxonMobil production vessel that is three football fields long, two-thirds of a football field wide, 15 stories high, and has an internal storage capacity of 2.2 million barrels of oil, as well as housing quarters for 100 workers.

In the distance loomed Kizomba A, B’s twin. Each vessel, the largest of its type in the world, has a huge floating oil rig nearby that maintains dozens of wells drilled into the ocean floor. Kizomba A produces about 250,000 barrels of oil a day, almost equal to the total output of the Republic of Congo.

The helicopter landed on Kizomba A, and the occupants were ushered below deck. ”It’s pretty amazing, huh?’ Cummings said, referring to the $ 3.4 billion structure, which was built in 36 months by construction companies located on four continents.

Fifteen minutes later, the helicopter flew back to Luanda, slightly more than an hour away. As the helicopter circled over shacks extending for miles outside the capital, the offshore oil installation seemed to be from another world.

Source : www.boston.com

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