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The Giant Perla Field: Discovery and Impact in the Western Caribbean

Abstract

Hydrocarbon exploration in the western Caribbean offshore basins has been conducted by a large number of international oil companies for over fifty years. The most intense exploratory activity took place in shallow waters from 1968 to 1978, with the drilling of thirty seven wildcats and 2D seismic acquisition. The first exploratory wells were drilled within the Nicaraguan Rise in Nicaragua and Honduras in the 60's and 70's, and in Colombia's Guajira Peninsula in the early 1970's. The first known oil and gas discoveries are Perlas-1 (1969) in Nicaragua's shelf, and Chuchupa-1 (1973) in Colombia's Guajira. This first regional exploratory stage targeted mainly Eocene-Miocene carbonate banks/build-ups above basement structural highs with little success. However, it is worth to mention that the companies involved in these early years of exploration are real pioneers. Since 1980, exploration activities were dramatically reduced if not completely stopped in the western Caribbean area, until 2009, with the discovery of thermogenic gas and condensate by Perla-1 well in the Gulf of Venezuela. The discovery of Perla gas field, with 15 TCF reserves in a lower-middle Miocene carbonate build-up, proved for the first time, the existence of a thermogenic petroleum system in the western Caribbean. For many years, there was a consensus that the western Caribbean was a biogenic gas province, and that future exploration in the region would be directed toward biogenic gas accumulations, but Perla discovery was a paradigm breaker. Present day offshore exploration is driven by the existence of thermogenic hydrocarbons. Additionally, the Perla giant gas discovery triggered a fantastic wave of exploration campaigns in the region, including large and modern 2D/3D seismic surveys, gravity and magnetic acquisitions, bathymetry, piston cores, and heat flow measurements.