The government has established a complicated legal framework for the fields. It has vested their ownership in Pré-Sal Petróleo, a new state body whose job is merely to collect and spend the oil money. It has granted an operating monopoly to Petrobras (although the company can strike production-sharing agreements with private partners). The rationale was that, since everyone now knows where the oil is, the lion’s share of the profits should go to the nation. But this glides over the complexity in developing fields that lie up to 300km (190 miles) offshore, beneath 2km of water and up to 5km of salt and rock.
To develop the new fields, and build onshore facilities including refineries, Petrobras plans to invest $45 billion a year for the next five years, the largest investment programme of any oil firm in the world.
Before the pré-sal (below the salt) finds, which started in 2007, the country’s total proven and probable reserves were 20 billion barrels. Conservative estimates for the total recoverable pré-sal oil now come in at 50 billion barrels: a little less than everything in the North Sea, all in the waters of one country. Optimists expect three times as much. “In the pré-sal area, our exploration has a success rate of 87%, compared with a world average of 20% to 25% for the industry,” says Sergio Gabrielli, the president of Petrobras, Brazil’s state-controlled oil company.
By 2020 Petrobras expects to be pumping 4.9 million barrels each day from Brazilian fields, 40% from the pré-sal, and exporting 1.5 million: at the moment the country falls a little short of self-sufficiency. Today Brazil is the world’s 11th-largest oil producer.
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