The Exalo rig that is being used to drill for oil and gas by Invictus Energy
INVICTUS Energy, the Australian firm that recently discovered huge deposits of condensate gas in Mbire, Mashonaland Central province, in the northern part of Zimbabwe, says it will immediately seek ways of monetising the hydrocarbons by building a gas-to-power plant.
The investment would further ameliorate Zimbabwe’s acute electricity deficit, often managed through rolling power cuts that frequently affect the smooth running of business operations and economic activities.
Electricity demand peaks at about 2 200 megawatts (MW) in Zimbabwe, but the country is currently able to generate slightly above or below half of the required power, depending on output levels at Hwange and Kariba power stations.
In 2021, Invictus Energy entered into a non-binding memorandum of understanding with Tatanga Energy to supply gas for a 500MW gas-to-power plant The companies agreed to work together to investigate the economic and commercial viability of supplying gas from the project to the plant. The electricity would then be sold to the national grid and other captive clients such as mines, as well as industrial and other large consumers of energy in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia.
The supply term was agreed for 20 years from the date of first commercial gas production, while the plant would be built in two phases, with the first one providing an estimated 150MW and the second one an additional 350MW.
Mines and Mining Development Minister Cde Zhemu Soda told the media on Thursday that GeoAssociates — the licence holder of special grant 4 571 covering Mukuyu-1/2, and its partners Invictus Energy and One Gas Resources — had successfully declared a gas discovery in Zimbabwe. This marked a historic moment for Invictus and Zimbabwe in general given that the firm successfully struck the “sweet spot” at the second instance of exploration drilling, compared to several dry holes encountered in many parts of Africa and the region.
The investors have over the last few years been exploring for oil and gas in Mbire and Muzarabani districts, Mashonaland Central province, in the Cabora Bassa basin, which transcends the Zambezi Valley.
Invictus, which owns 80 percent of GeoAssociates, first drilled the Mukuyu-1 test well, which showed encouraging evidence of hydrocarbon deposits but could not be declared a discovery after the company failed to recover a fluid sample as required by the regulators.
The Australian firm had to drill a side track for Mukuyu-2 after sensing the dangers of similar technical challenges faced at Mukuyu-1, allowing the company to conveniently recover four samples that led to the declaration of the gas discovery.
Following the successful discovery of gas condensate at Mukuyu-2, Mukuyu-1 may subsequently be declared a discovery, company officials confirmed.
The Mukuyu exploration fields, whose drilling was estimated to cost over $16 million, represent the largest oil and gas exploration prospects to be drilled over the last couple of years, estimated at 20 trillion cubic feet and 845 million barrels of conventional gas condensate, or about 4,3 billion barrels of oil equivalent, according to the company.
Minister Soda said the gas discovery represented one of the most significant developments in the onshore oil and gas sector in the Southern African region.
The gas discovery is a Triassic-aged hydrocarbon in Southern Africa.
“We believe that this discovery is a result of the long-term partnership between GeoAssociates and the Government of Zimbabwe, with the Government providing an appropriate mining title and a conducive regulatory and fiscal environment for the project,” he said.
The minister added the Government, led by President Mnangagwa, was proud of the cooperation, which is expected to unlock the full potential of the country’s oil and gas industry. This, he said, should positively impact the economic and social development of Zimbabwe.
GeoAssociates director Paul Chimbodza told The Sunday Mail Business in an interview that the company would seek to immediately monetise the gas from Mukuyu-2, specifically by building a gas-to-power plant.
Mr Chimbodza pointed out that the discovery was a potential game changer for Zimbabwe in terms of export generation and energy security.
“We have made a gas discovery and it’s a significant discovery; the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa for a very long time. It is the start of a very long journey; you recall we drilled Mukuyu-1 and Mukuyu-2, which are only seven kilometres apart.
“We still have to cover an area of about 100 kilometres by 50 kilometres in extent. Because of the Invictus listing requirements, any material information that we come across, we are mandated to release it to the public. We hope this is the start of more positive news to come.
“We are still drilling at Mukuyu-2. These results that we have just released are coming from a part of that, we still have another 400m to 500m of Mukuyu-2 to drill and we expect more positive results,” Mr Chimbodza said, adding: “You will recall, last year, the main failure for us to recover the fluid sample (from Mukuyu-2), which we have successfully recovered now, which is precondition for you (to be allowed) to declare a discovery.”
He said based on earlier studies, the firm expected to discover the initially projected 20 trillion cubic feet of gas condensate from the Mukuyu field, which has so far confirmed interpretations of earlier seismic (underground vibration) studies.
“This discovery that we are announcing to the public is a gas discovery. We have recovered condensate, which is a mixture of oil, gas water and all that, and we are still processing that through our laboratory externally. It’s only when we have got results that give us the constituent minerals with that condensate that we can be certain about announcing what we have got,” he said.
In a sign of confidence about the potential of the company’s prospective area, which covers extensive swathes of land in Mbire and Muzarabani districts, Mashonaland Central province, Mr Chimbodza said exploration drilling will continue after the company extended the contract for the hired Exalo drilling rig by another two years.
“But we are also looking at early monetisation opportunities. As we continue with the exploration, we want to see if we can monetise whatever resource that we have discovered now and we are looking at what potential low-hanging fruits can be used for early monetisation, but also as a proof of concept, for example, gas to power,” he said.
He said the company entertained the idea of starting some form of production immediately following the discovery, albeit at a small scale, which can be increased over time.
“The technology and modular manner in which the gas-to-power equipment comes these days, it is very quick to monetise. You can set up a gas-to-power plant within nine to 12 months, and you are up and running.
“So, we want to do things not the conventional way, but the exploration will continue for a long time to come until we cover the whole of the basin,” he said.
Natural gas condensate, also called natural gas liquid, is a low-density mixture of hydrocarbon liquids that are present as gaseous components in the raw natural gas produced from many natural gas fields.
Condensate gases are also used for power generation, and manufacture of products such as petrol (gasoline), jet fuel, diesel and heating fuels. Some condensates, particularly those with a high paraffin content, are used in the manufacture of ethylene (feedstock for polymers and industrial chemicals).
Exploration, however, continues at Mukuyu-2 to assess the full extent of the gas deposits, amid expectations further tests could also confirm the presence of some oil. Invictus’ special grant exploration area covers an expansive piece of land that will also be explored or tested shortly.
Invictus Energy managing director Scott MacMillan said the company was thrilled with the discovery of gas at Mukuyu-2 via a side track borehole drilled after the original channel faced technical challenges that made recovery of fluid samples difficult.
“The discovery represents one of the most significant developments in the Southern Africa oil and gas industry for many decades.
“The company has delivered an exceptional result from the first two wells drilled in Mukuyu, opening up substantial running room in our large portfolio of prospects and leads for further discoveries in our acreage,” he said.
Mr McMillan said the Mukuyu-2 discovery, seven kilometres away and 450 metres up-dip of Mukyu-1, which can subsequently be classified as a discovery, confirmed the large potential of the Mukuyu field, which has a closure of 200 square kilometres.
He said with additional hydrocarbon-bearing reservoirs ahead, the focus was now on completing the drilling and evaluation programme, and obtain further wireline data, including fluids, to declare an additional discovery.
According to Invictus, the latest discovery sits in the Upper Angwa geological formation, which has been drilled to a depth of 2 987m, while the target is to burrow the ground down to 3 400m to recover more samples from reservoirs observed to be sitting in the Lower Angwa.