Petroleum in PNG

The resource industry in Papua New Guinea is experiencing an unprecedented period of activity and growth and this has shielded PNG from the effects of the Global Financial Crisis that has impacted many other countries. Activity in the petroleum sector is spearheaded by the PNG LNG project which has focused international attention on the country.

Petroleum exploration is at an all-time high and there is very little open exploration ground available. The PNG LNG project is now well underway and production is on target for the end of 2014. If the welcoming environment for investors is maintained, there is every chance PNG will see the development in the next five years of several gas projects, including at least one more LNG development. This is a substantial achievement which very few resource rich nations of similar size have achieved in recent years.

PNG has been successful in attracting a broad cross section of companies to the petroleum sector.  Talisman and its joint venture partners are very active in the southwest of the country, focused on a group of licences covering large parts of Western Province.  ExxonMobil and Oil Search are focused on the Fold Belt which follows a northwest-southeast trend in the central part of the mainland incorporating the existing oilfields and the Hides/Angore/Juha gas fields.  InterOil is having considerable success on its licences in the Gulf region.

ExxonMobil Sasol Oil Search
Mitsubishi Talisman InterOil
Mitsui Nippon Oil Petromin PNG
Santos Horizon Oil
Plus more than 10 juniors engaged in exploration in onshore/offshore

Oil production is in slow but steady decline. Oil production in 2011 averaged about 30,100 barrels per day.  The PNG LNG will add about 20,000 barrels/day of liquids once production commences in late 2014.

Overview of the PNG Petroleum Sector – 2017

PNG LNG Project

The PNG LNG project is a 6.6 million tonnes per annum (mtpa) integrated LNG project operated by Esso Highlands Limited, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil Corporation.  The gas will be sourced from the Hides, Angore and Juha gas fields and from associated gas in the Kutubu, Agogo, Moran and Gobe Main oil fields.  The investment for the initial phase of the project, excluding shipping costs, was increased in December 2011 by US$700 million, taking the total cost to US$15.7 billion.  The increase primarily reflects the impact of foreign exchange rate fluctuations.

All of the contributing fields are located in the Southern Highlands and Western provinces of PNG.  Over 9 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of gas and 200 million barrels (mmbls) of associated liquids are expected to be produced over the project life.  The gas and associated liquids from the Hides, Angore and Juha fields will be collected and separated in the Hides Gas Conditioning Plant.  The gas will then be transported by onshore/offshore gas pipeline over 700km long and liquefied in the LNG plant located approximately 20km northwest of Port Moresby.  The liquids will be exported through the existing Kutubu oil pipeline.

The partners in the PNG LNG are:

  • Esso Highlands Ltd as operator (33.2%)
  • Oil Search Ltd (29%)
  • National Petroleum Company of PNG (PNG Government) (16.6%)
  • Santos Ltd (13.5%)
  • JX Nippon Oil and Gas Exploration (4.7%)
  • Mineral Resources Development Company (PNG Landowners) (2.8%)
  • Petromin PNG Holdings Ltd (0.2%)

PNG LNG will provide a long-term supply of LNG to four major customers in the Asia region: Chinese Petroleum Corporation of Taiwan (1.2mtpa); Osaka Gas Company (1.5mtpa) and the Tokyo Electric Power Company of Japan (1.8mtpa); and Unipec Asia Company (2mtpa), a subsidiary of China Petroleum and Chemical Corporation (Sinopec).  The LNG has been jointly marketed, with ExxonMobil acting as marketing representative on behalf of the Project participants.

By December 2011, the Project and its contractors achieved many milestones including: completion of the offshore pipeline LNG plant (Caution Bay) landfall; completion of the LNG tank concrete foundations and the start of construction for the outer LNG tank shells; completion of the first  major river crossing for the onshore pipeline at Kikori River; completion of pre-construction of surveys on the 292km main onshore pipeline route, as well as the successful delivery of the first of two drill rigs from Houston, USA to the Lae port. The Project now employs more than 8,500 citizens (60% of workforce) and has spent over K3.6 billion (approximately US$1.7 billion) in PNG to date.

Aerial view of PNG LNG plant site, March 2012.

Aerial view of PNG LNG plant site, March 2012.

The first of two drill rigs for the PNG LNG Project. Successfully delivered from Houston Texas to Lae Port of PNG in December, 2011.

The first of two drill rigs for the PNG LNG Project. Successfully delivered from Houston Texas to Lae Port of PNG in December, 2011.

Other Potential Gas Commercialisation

The LNG project is an enormous achievement for PNG and is expected to be the first of a series of potential gas developments, notably the InterOil condensate stripping/LNG project centred on the Elk/Antelope discoveries close to the lower Purari River in the Gulf Province; the Stanley condensate stripping project; the possible aggregation of a number of gas accumulations in the Western Province such as P’nyang, Stanley, Douglas/Puk Puk, Elevala/Ketu, Kimu and possibly the offshore Pandora field for an LNG development; and the Oil Search LNG expansion strategy.

Gulf LNG

InterOil’s Gulf LNG Project is based on the Elk/Antelope fields which has a resource estimate of 8.6tcf of gas and 128.9mmbbls of condensate.  The project start-up configuration envisages a condensate stripping plant adjacent to the Elk/Antelope fields, 120km dry gas and condensate pipelines to the coast, a 3mtpa land-based modular LNG plant and a 2mtpa fixed floating LNG plant, and LNG/condensate storage tanks and export terminal.

The joint venture operating agreement with Mitsui on the proposed condensate stripping plant has been amended to provide an extension of the final investment decision (FID) until June 30 2012, and the FID date relating to the agreement with Energy World Corporation for the development, construction, financing and operation of the land-based LNG plant has been extended until December 31, 2012.  The agreement with Samsung Heavy Industries and FLEX LNG relating to the construction and operation of the planned fixed floating LNG processing vessel has not been renewed in 2012 but discussions are continuing.

InterOil and Pacific LNG Operations (shareholders in Liquid Niugini Gas which is developing the LNG plant) have signed Heads of Agreement for the supply of a total 3.3 – 3.8mtpa of LNG to the Noble Group (1mtpa), Gunvor Singapore (1mtpa), and ENN Energy Trading of China (1 to 1.5mtpa).

InterOil has retained Morgan Stanley, Macquarie and UBS as joint financial advisors to assist the company to complete a LNG partner selection process.  InterOil is looking for an internationally recognised LNG operating company that could also take an interest in the Elk and Antelope fields and participate in the exploration tenements.



InterOil has an ongoing drilling and seismic program in the three Petroleum Prospecting Licences (PPLs) it holds in the Gulf region.  The most recent well, Triceratops-2, is an appraisal well in PPL 237 located about 3.5km west of the Bwata-1 discovery well and 4.7km southwest of Triceratops-1.  Triceratops-2 intersected a very thick carbonate sequence which was flow tested at 17.6mmscfpd from a 228m open hole interval.  Bwata-1 well was drilled in 1959 and tested flow rates of up to 28mmcf of gas per day defining a 156m gas column.



Stanley Condensate Recovery

The Stanley field gas condensate recovery project in Petroleum Retention Licence 4 (PRL4), Western Province is a 50% JV between Horizon Oil and Talisman Energy.  The contingent resources are 361bcf of gas and 11.4mmbbls of condensate.  The Stanley development concept involves producing 140mmcf of wet gas per day, from which 4,000 barrels of condensate per day would be recovered utilising a two train refrigeration plant located in the field.    The condensate will be transported via a 6 inch, 40km pipeline to a 60,000 barrel storage tank at Kiunga base then loaded onto a specially designed tanker with a 33,000 barrels capacity.

The dry gas could supply domestic and large industry consumers in the region and any dry gas not sold will be re-injected into the reservoir and “banked” until required for sale.  The Government announced in February, 2012 that cabinet had approved a proposal by PNG Energy Development for a gas power plant at Stanley.  This could supply the Ok Tedi mine and the possible mine development at Frieda River, as well as potential consumers across the border in West Papua.  The key social objective of the project is to supply power to the rural areas in Western Province.



The front end engineering and design is completed and the project is estimated to cost approximately US$300 million, including contingency.  Horizon has commenced preliminary works and intends to apply for a Petroleum Development Licence (PDL) in Q2 2012.

Western Province Gas Aggregation

There have been a number of drilling successes in Western Province over the last 12 months.  Stanley-4, drilled by Horizon Oil, encountered 35m of net gas pay in the Toro sandstone, approximately 50% more than was intersected in the Stanley-2 well.  Elevala-2 well, located in PRL 21 about 50km east of the port of Kiunga on the Fly River, established a gas column of more than 50m.  Horizon Oil had previously advised (pre-drill) certified mean recoverable contingent resources of 302bcf of gas and 19.3 million barrels of condensate but the positive drilling results are expected to lead to a revised upgrade.  The Ketu-2 appraisal well was spudded in early March 2012 northeast of Elevala in PRL 21, to better define the gas condensate accumulation discovered in the Ketu-1 well in 1991. It was also a success and flow tested at 20mmcf per day. The gas is liquids-rich containing about 60 barrels of condensate per million cubic feet of gas.

New seismic is currently being recorded over the Elevala, Tingu and Ketu structures and this will be integrated into the existing mapping before the resource volumes are revised.

In early January 2012, Talisman Energy announced a farmout to Mitsubishi Corporation involving nine licences onshore Western Province, including a 10% interest in PRL 4, incorporating the Stanley gas-condensate field, and a 7.5% interest in PRL 21, incorporating the Elevala and Ketu gas-condensate fields.  Talisman and Mitsubishi have agreed to work together closely to aggregate natural gas in the Western Province with a view to potential LNG export of approximately 3mtpa.

Talisman entered the onshore licences of the Papuan Foreland in 2009 and now has a portfolio comprising interests in nine petroleum prospecting licences and five petroleum retention licences  The company has participated in the acquisition of over 1,550km of 2D seismic and the drilling of eight wells in the PNG Foreland Basin to Q2 2012.

Oil Search LNG Expansion Strategy

Oil Search has a two-pronged LNG expansion strategy:

  • Expansion of the PNG LNG project, utilising gas reserves located in the Foldbelt/Highlands areas in which Oil Search has large equity positions.
  • The establishment of Gulf area LNG, focused on the Gulf of Papua, which is a relatively untested, proven gas province where Oil Search has secured an extensive acreage position. Gulf gas could supplement a PNG LNG expansion or alternatively provide the foundation for another LNG hub.

To this effect Oil Search is pursuing a multi-well drilling program in 2012/13 in the highlands region to expand its gas resources as well as ongoing evaluation of offshore seismic programs to determine the potential of the company’s acreage in the Gulf area.

In April 2012, Oil Search reported a notable success with the drilling of P’nyang South-1 and P’nyang South-1 side track appraisal wells located 4km southwest of P’nyang South-1X gas discovery and about 90km northwest of Juha gas field.  Preliminary interpretation of the two wells along with seismic interpretation indicates a potential vertical gas column in the P’nyang South field in the Toro, Digimu and P’nyang sands of over 650m.

The Trapia prospect in PRL 11 is one of a series of targets in the area east of Hides and Angore gas fields.  It is considered to be a highly prospective area that has the potential to produce multi-tcf gas fields.  Trapia-1 exploration well is expected to spud in Q2 2012.

Oil Search’s evaluation of the the Gulf of Papua is continuing following a full review of the 6,000 square kilometres of new 3D seismic, existing 2D seismic and previous well results.  A range of exploration plays and leads have been identified and drilling is anticipated to commence in the second half of 2012.

Exploration Licences

The PNG LNG has increased the focus on PNG and has attracted international interest which has contributed to the high level of activity in oil and gas exploration.  There are currently 71 Petroleum Prospecting Licences and over 15 applications pending covering large parts of the country.

Petroleum Licence Map

Petroleum Licence Map


Petroleum Project Map

Petroleum Project Map. Click for printable PDF

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