Q&A: ENI CEO Claudio Descalzi on the company's Middle East expansion plans
Claudio Descalzi, CEO of ENI, comments on his drive to expand in the Middle East, how digitalisation drove the company's growth in the region, and what it brings to the Ghasha ultra-sour concession
Jan 06, 2020
You have had success in Egypt, specifically with gas projects including Zohr offshore. Update me on your progress in the country.
We started producing in Egypt more than 60 years ago. In the last four years we made the most important discovery there, and all of the main discoveries have been in gas and condensates. There is also a big discovery that we made recently, Abu Rudeis in the Red Sea, which we announced a few months ago, is a big oil discovery. All of our discoveries are close to existing facilities, both our fields and other fields that are more mature. That fits with our strategy to leverage near-field exploration.
In 19 months we developed the deep offshore field of Baltim South West and in Western Desert, we increased oil production by about 35%. Egypt is a wonderful story for us. We are supplying more than 70% of the Egyptian consumption. Zohr is reaching maximum potential. Not production, but potential. The project is at 3bn standard cubic feet per day (scfd), and in the next couple of months we will be able to produce 3.25bscfd.
Why did you decide to diversify ENI’s portfolio geographically?
Our strategy that started five years ago was to diversify, because we discovered so many resources in Africa. We diversified and we moved mainly east in the Gulf, and north to Norway, and west through Mexico.
The best story, really, is in the Middle East, because we have Abu Dhabi, which became our logistic and technological hub in the region. We have all our people here, and we set up very quickly. With the new structure, we have about 170 people here and we cover the different activities in Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Bahrain, Oman, and we have already finished a well in Sharjah that we are going to test. We have first drilling in February, the first deep offshore and the first offshore well, in Oman, with a very short time to market, less than one year. We find the prospect, we have the rig, and we start the drilling.
Why did you pinpoint these countries in the Gulf as areas of opportunity?
First of all, Abu Dhabi presented opportunitiesbecause ADNOC, with Dr. Sultan [Al Jaber as its CEO] in the recent past, has completely changed the profile of the company, seeking technology, seeking improvement. He looks at the future, but not just the next step. He talks about 20, 30 years from now. He is interested in a real transformation of the energy business.
New technology became the main driver of our expansion. Because ADNOC is seeking what kind of triggers and what kind of new solutions we can put in our energy system. From the circular economy, renewables, CCUS [carbon capture, utilisation, and sequestration] that we are going to apply in the sour gas development. Zero carbon intensity target in the new development.
Clearly, we have a lot of resources. We still have a lot of opportunity and aspiration in gas, because it is new. Before, they were focused on oil. Now the strategy is wider and is covering gas, as a future fuel for the transition in their low carbon activities.
In Oman, offshore is still a virgin area. Bahrain is more mature, but with new technology, new algorithms, and the new modelling and the expertise that we have gained in the last five years, we have been able to go to more mature areas, that are, in any case, close to existing facilities. In Egypt, for example, Zohr was a relinquishment from another company, Congo Marine 12 was a relinquishment, Indonesia was the same. So we go back to areas that maybe others have neglected. With new tools, we try to give value. That was the reason for our expansion here. We have seen that in this region, that is really rich in oil and gas, we still have a huge opportunity in applying these new models and technical knowledge.
What do you bring to ADNOC’s ultra-sour Ghasha project?
We have previous experience in sour gas, but also the technology in our proposal, in terms of CCUS, for example, found ADNOC absolutely interested. This CCUS will be applied in the gas development, so we capture the CO2 instead of venting, we store the CO2, and then we use it to increase the recovery factor of ADNOC. That is important technology. In refining, we have the possibility, with our technology, to treat different kinds of crude, not only Abu Dhabi crude, but also heavier crude that we can treat and upgrade, and give value, increasing the spectrum of feedstock for their refinery.
Then we have renewables, we have the circular economy, and then we have also the green refinery. There is a huge amount of technology that we offer as an integrated package to ADNOC, and Abu Dhabi, from my point of view, is a hub for the future of energy. There is motivation, they want to develop new stuff, they want efficiency, and they are looking at the transition, so I think that there is no better place to really implement the future.
What are your next steps in the region, what are the areas of opportunity for ENI?
We look at exploration, and now it has been one year since we became the first exploration company [having signed with ADNOC], and there is the new exploration bidding round in Abu Dhabi. We want to participate in this bidding round. Other than that, we now have to drill about 10 wells in the next couple of years, mainly in Abu Dhabi, but also Oman, Bahrain, Sharjah, and Ras Al Khaimah. There is a huge amount of activity, and we are engaging in development and in exploration. I think that the new ENI will be here in Abu Dhabi.