Challenges across Brazil’s oil sector and prospects for future production

Less than 10 years ago, at the height of the commodities boom, Brazil was all but assured a place as an oil world powerhouse following the discovery of oil in its subsalt basins. Much faith has been put in Brazil delivering the barrels needed to keep the medium-term oil market in reasonable balance. Whether it is the IEA, EIA, OPEC, major oil companies, or indeed the Brazilian government, all projected the country’s oil production to increase substantially in the coming years. This optimism was brought to the forefront of the global oil and gas industries by the 2007/2008 discovery of the vast pre-salt basins, specifically the Tupi field. This ranks alongside Kashagan as one of the largest and most significant oil discoveries of the past few decades and the biggest in the Americas since the Cantarell field in Mexico in 1976. However, as has often been the case in recent history for the oil markets, a number of project delays and cost overruns have since taken the shine off the initial optimism, and has also kept Brazil from playing a bigger role in the non-OPEC supply picture.

So what has slowed the progress in the Brazilian oil sector? This paper argues that Brazil’s upstream sector faces a number of key challenges, including: regulatory barriers; a massive financial burden, consisting of the world’s largest corporate expenditure programme and increasingly funded by debt; high production costs and high decline rates; caps on domestic fuel prices, which have adversely affected Petrobras’ earnings; and waning interest from major international oil companies (IOCs) in co-financing projects. The country’s deep-sea bonanza has become less alluring, whilst oil companies have also been adapting to a changing energy landscape, altered by a focus on capital discipline, shale in the US, and the emergence of other frontier energy sources, such as in deepwater Africa or oil sands in Canada.

By: Virendra Chauhan , Pedro Florencio , Maarten van Mourik

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