French multinational Total and its partner, Canadian Natural Resources International, on Thursday 24 July, officially launched the drilling operation for South Africa's first deep-water well in the Outeniqua Basin, south of Mossel Bay in the Western Cape.
The multi-billion rand drilling operation gives fresh momentum to South Africa's nascent upstream oil and gas industry, at a time when the eyes of investors in the sector are shifting further down Africa's coastline.
While substantial gas discoveries have been made offshore of Tanzania and Mozambique in recent years, South African petrochemicals giant Sasol recently announced plans to explore for oil and gas along South Africa's east coast, and Australian company Sunbird Energy is pushing ahead with the development of a major gas project off South Africa's west coast.
"South Africa's deep offshore, in particular the Outeniqua Basin, is one of the few remaining under-explored offshore regions in Africa," Marc Blaizot, senior vice-president for exploration at Total, said in September last year, when his company completed the acquisition of a 50% stake in Block 11B/12B from Canadian Natural Resources.
The block is located in the Outeniqua Basin, around 175km off South Africa's southern coast, and covers an area of 19 000km² with water depths ranging from 200m to 1,800m. According to news agency Bloomberg, the drilling programme is expected to take between three and four months at an estimated cost of more than R2bn. This will vary depending on the weather conditions - Total will have to deal both with great depth and with very strong currents.
"The results of the upcoming exploration well will be decisive, especially in terms of operability of the area in such a harsh environment," Blaizot said last year. "As the Operator, we will leverage our recognized deep offshore expertise and experience in challenging waters such as the North Sea and the Barents Sea, to quickly appraise the potential of this acreage."
Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi, speaking at Thursday's launch, said South Africa's emerging upstream oil and gas industry had great potential to contribute to economic growth and job creation.
"Drilling in deep water is novel to South Africa and will therefore also bring with it avenues for skills transfer in the deep-water exploration space," Ramatlhodi added.