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Both options, others at disposal of regulator Alnaft

New hydrocarbon law offers new contractual flexibility

Shale gas outlook 'encouraging', more studies needed

London — Algeria hopes to win more international interest in its upstream through both direct bilateral talks and future licensing rounds, as its revamped hydrocarbon law offers new incentives to foreign players, the head of the country's energy regulator Alnaft said in an interview.

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Noureddine Daoudi, who was elected as Alnaft president last month, said that under the country's new hydrocarbon law there was considerably more flexibility around how new upstream opportunities can be offered to existing or new partners.

State-owned Sonatrach has already signed five memorandums of understanding with major international companies for upstream cooperation since the law came into effect at the end of 2019, including US majors ExxonMobil and Chevron, Russia's Lukoil and Zarubezhneft, and Turkey's TPAO.

The new hydrocarbon law was designed to improve the attractiveness of investing in Algeria's upstream after four previous upstream bid rounds held since 2008 were considered disappointments, with very few new operating licenses awarded.

Asked whether Alnaft -- which manages Algeria's oil and gas upstream industry -- had a preference for license awards as a result of bilateral talks or licensing rounds, Daoudi said Alnaft was open "to all forms of discussions."

"The new hydrocarbon law is flexible on this subject. It allows us to launch calls for tenders to promote potential E&P assets, while direct consultation is also another possibility enabling partnerships in exploration and field development," he said.

"Another way to get a hydrocarbon contract in Algeria is to carry out prospecting works on a specific area. Then, if a hydrocarbon prospect is identified, the company can submit a research plan to conclude a hydrocarbon contract," he said.

Algerian government officials have said the new legislation would mark a return to provisions in the 1986 hydrocarbons law, which led to significant discoveries in the 1990s, before changes to the regulations in the mid-2000s saw investment tail off.

"The new law aims to soften the conditions for carrying out upstream activities and improve projects' profitability," Daoudi said, adding that under the legislation Algerian take from revenues had been reduced.

"This shows that Algeria is willing to create an environment for investment and strengthening partnerships," he said.

"I am confident that it will help to bring foreign investment back to Algeria in the oil and gas exploration and production sector."

Future rounds

Daoudi acknowledged that the results of the last four bidding rounds launched by Alnaft were proof of the "weak profitability" of the projects offered under the tax regime of the former hydrocarbon law.

The new law, Daoudi said, has "many incentives" and provides for a new contractual framework and a much simpler fiscal regime in line with international industry standards.

Daoudi said Alnaft plans to launch a first call for tenders under the new law "in a mid-term perspective."

"Our geosciences teams have already started to work on data packaging of potential oil and gas assets that can be offered in a future bid round," he said.

Alnaft also organized meetings with a number of international players in February and March to explain and clarify the new legal and fiscal framework.

Daoudi said all companies were welcome, from the majors to smaller players. "We want to not only strengthen and develop business with traditional partners, but also with new oil and gas companies that would like to invest in Algeria," he said.

"We wish to attract all companies, especially those having know-how and high technology expertise," he said.

Daoudi said the new hydrocarbon framework took this into account by proposing three adapted types of hydrocarbon contracts: participation contracts; production sharing contracts; and risk service contracts.

"A lot of opportunities are offered to petroleum companies whether it is a big company or small one," he said.

Shale potential

As well as looking to bring partners in to revive its conventional oil and gas upstream sector, Algeria also has vast potential in unconventional resources, such as shale gas.

According to a recent upgrade to its shale gas estimates, Algeria has 9,800 Tcf (277 Tcm) of shale gas-in-place, up from a previous estimate of around 6,000 Tcf -- which was translated into technically recoverable reserves of some 707 Tcf.

"For the time being, Algeria's action is aimed at assessing the potential and acquiring knowledge regarding exploration techniques and methods, with strict respect for the environment," Daoudi said.

He said Algeria had the third largest shale gas reserves in the world, "but we still need to know the real potential underground."

"Studies are carried out in order to evaluate the potential," he said, adding that shale gas developments were a longer-term aim.

Daoudi said that a first large-scale study was though under way to assess the potential in place across seven basins of the Algerian Sahara. "The preliminary results of this study are encouraging," he said.

"It is fundamental to make an estimation of what we could produce and the means to mobilize," he said, including monitoring new technologies that can be used in field development and well drilling.

He said the national hydrocarbon mining domain -- both onshore and offshore -- covered more than 1.6 million sq km, with unexplored areas representing 56% of the total.

"There are still huge amounts of proven conventional hydrocarbon reserves that need to be extracted from many fields under exploitation, especially those that are mature and need enhanced oil technology," he said.