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Australia's Santos sees Dorado field development FEED decision in Q2

Sydney — Australian oil and gas producer Santos Wednesday said it was progressing towards the front end engineering and design (FEED) phase of its Dorado field development in Western Australia and expects to make a decision in the second quarter of this year.

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The move will pave the way for tapping what is considered the biggest oil discovery in Australia this century, with consulting firm Wood Mackenzie estimating the Dorado field to contain commercial reserves of as much as 150 million barrels.

"The successful completion of appraisal of the Dorado field has de-risked development options with the project progressing towards a FEED-entry decision," Santos said in its quarterly activities report.

RBC Capital Markets analyst Ben Wilson said in a research note Wednesday that Santos is working on a January-July 2021 timeline for final investment decision and that it recently raised its expected production rate to around 75,000 b/d from roughly 50,000 b/d.

"Our modelling currently assumes an initial liquids development at 90,000 b/d from the second half of 2023, largely as a function of strong flow rates achieved from appraisal work, followed by a gas development project later in the decade contingent on gas market dynamics," Wilson said.

Santos is the operator of the Dorado joint venture, while Carnarvon holds a 20% stake.

Production update

Santos' crude oil and condensate production across Australia and Papua New Guinea in the fourth quarter was 1.76 million barrels and 1.06 million barrels, respectively. Crude output was up 44% year on year while condensate output rose 16%.

This took its full-year 2019 crude output to 7.7 million barrels from 5.9 million barrels in 2018, and raised its 2019 condensate output to 4.3 million barrels from 3.2 million barrels, the data showed.

Western Australia, the country's leading oil and gas producing state, also constituted Santos' largest production volume. Santos' overall production from its Western Australia assets rose to 30.9 million barrels of oil equivalent in 2019, from 12.5 million boe in 2018.

The company's total hydrocarbons production in 2019 rose to 75.5 million boe from 58.9 million boe in 2018.

Santos' average crude oil price was $73.49/b in the December quarter, from 68.81/b in the same period of 2018. For condensate it achieved $60.72/b, down from $69.11/b a year earlier.

Santos left its total 2020 production guidance unchanged at 79 million boe-87 million boe. That compares with 75.5 million boe in 2019. Wilson said RBC has forecast 85 million boe.