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50 Years of Conventional Oil and Gas Exploration and Production in the Western Desert (Egypt) and Still Going Strong


The first commercial oil discovery in the Western Desert (WD) of Egypt was made by Phillips Petroleum Company in 1966. The discovery well Alamein-1X was drilled on a 2D seismically-defined anticline and initially produced 8000 BOPD from Alamein Fm dolomite. Alamein field is a Late Cretaceous inversion structure that formed within an older Mesozoic extensional basin. Similar age extensional basins are located across North Africa and formed after the initial Permo-Triassic rifting of Neotethys. The entire domain is a prolific hydrocarbon province. The Alamein field is reported to have a EUR of about 82 MMBO. Similar small to moderate-size fields were discovered in the following years in many of the WD basins. Notable highlights included Abu Gharadig field in 1969 (Pan American Oil Company/Amoco; 320 MMBOE EUR), Meleiha in 1972 (Wepco, later developed by Agiba Petroleum Company/Agip, 77 MMBOE EUR), the Badr el Din complex in 1982/83 (Shell Winning N.V., 3 fields, 510 MMBOE EUR), GPAA in 1985 (General Petroleum Company, 190 MMBOE EUR), Obaiyed 1 and 2 in 1992 (Shell Egypt N.V., 155 and 270 MMBOE EUR, respectively) and Qarun in 1994 (Phoenix Resources Company, 72 MMBOE EUR). Qasr, the largest known Western Desert field was not found until 2003 (Khalda Petroleum Company/Apache, 700 MMBOE EUR). Amazingly, the creaming curve for this province has never leveled off and even the jumps made by large discoveries have kept a healthy, regular pace. This has been attributed to several factors: 1) application of increasingly improved 2D seismics followed by ever more sophisticated 3D acquisition programs; 2) willingness of operators to drill deeper and to test the limits of “economic” basement; 3) improved drilling technologies that made deeper wells economically viable; 4) the presence of multiple source rock and reservoir/seal pairs that made deeper wells successful; and 5) the dedicated pursuit of combination structural/stratigraphic traps. Early discovered reservoirs were largely of Cretaceous age, but through time exploration has focused increasingly on the Early Mesozoic and Paleozoic. All of the WD exploration and production during these past 50 years has been onshore and conventional in nature. It is a paradise for the application of traditional geology and geophysics. Well and seismic acquisition costs are relatively low because of the desert environment and sparse population. Every indication is exploration will remain active in the WD for many years to come.