Petrobras treasure hunt to clear path for FPSO pair



Archaeological studies are not new for the global oil and gas industry, but Petrobras could be hoping some Hollywood glamour will help boost a recently launched bidding competition as part of a frontier production drive.

The Brazilian state-controlled company has started the search for an archaeological contractor for the deep-water section of Brazil’s Sergipe-Alagoas basin, just as cinemas prepare for this week’s release of Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, the fifth and final instalment of the Harrison Ford-led franchise about fiction’s most famous archaeologist.

And while Petrobras is not vying with Nazi forces to recover the long-lost Ark of the Covenant or the Holy Grail — as in previous Indiana Jones movies — the onshore and offshore archaeological studies could uncover treasures such as the remains of prehistoric structures or colonial-era shipwrecks.

As part of the Sergipe-Alagoas production drive, Petrobras plans to install two large floating production, storage and offloading vessels in water depths of over 2000 metres, with first oil from both units earmarked for 2027.

However, in order for that to happen, the company must first submit a series of archaeological studies to Brazil’s Institute of National Historical & Artistic Heritage (IPHAN).

IPHAN needs to approve everything before Petrobras files an application to federal environmental regulator Ibama to obtain both the installation and operation licences for the Sergipe-Alagoas Deepwater (SEAP) project.

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Among the tender requirements are the preparation of an archaeological heritage impact assessment report and a potential impact assessment project, both onshore and offshore.

“In addition to the usual archaeological research carried out in land sections for the purpose of environmental licensing, subsea archaeological research will also be conducted for the SEAP project,” Petrobras told Upstream.

The studies, according to Petrobras, will be based on hydro graphic data with the use of autonomous underwater vehicles capable of operating in water depths of up to 3000 metres.

“In case there is the need to recover any artefact on the seabed, remotely operated vehicles must be used and, for this purpose, specific vessels adapted for launching ROVs will be utilised,” Petrobras added.

Petrobras is presently tendering for the SEAP-1 and SEAP-2 FPSOs under a lease-and-operate model.

The SEAP-1 FPSO will be able to process 120,000 barrels per day of oil and 10 million cubic metres per day of natural gas, while SEAP-2 will be slightly larger at 120,000 bpd and 12 MMcmd.

SEAP-1 will feature 17 development wells, including six oil producers, five water injectors, four water-alternating-gas (WAG) injectors and two gas producers.

As for SEAP-2, the floater will be linked to 18 development wells, being six oil producers, six gas producers, four WAG injectors and two water injectors.

The two FPSOs will produce from blocks BM-SEAL-10 and BM-SEAL-11, which harbour the Cavala, Palombeta, Agulhinha and Budiao fields.

The project will also feature a 123-kilometre pipeline, of which 100 kilometres offshore and 23 kilometres onshore, linking the FPSOs to a gas treatment facility in the Barra dos Coqueiros municipality.

Archaeological studies will cover mainly the areas adjacent to where the offshore and onshore pipeline will be installed, as well the maritime section where the two FPSOs will be deployed. Petrobras is offering a 38-month contract.

Upstream contacted the Brazilian Archaeology Society to find out if the region where the two FPSOs will be installed could harbour any historical artefact, but received no reply.

Petrobras said there are no occurrences that suggest the existence of any shipwreck in the area where the subsea equipment related to the SEAP project will be installed.

However, the company added that a probable shipwreck has been mapped in about 2500 metres of water, approximately 4500 metres from the location where the FPSOs and subsea equipment will be deployed.

According to the bidding documents, the technical team that will run the studies will include nine people, including a senior archaeologist.