(S&P Global Platts, 6.Jan.2020) — Brazil sugar and ethanol group Cosan applied for environmental permits to build a second tranche of the Route 4 offshore natural gas export pipeline in a move that would add much-needed transportation capacity and boost oil and gas output from subsalt fields, according to documents published Monday by federal environmental regulator IBAMA.
Cosan wants to build a 313-km pipeline that would link the Carcara and Norte de Carcara subsalt fields operated by Norway’s Equinor to a planned gas processing plant at Ilha da Madeira near the Itaguai Port complex in Rio de Janeiro state, according to IBAMA. The pipeline would have installed capacity to transport 10 million-15 million cu m/d.
The Route 4B pipeline would also pass through the Mexilhao Field operated by state-led oil company Petrobras, which uses the field’s platform as a gas-export hub for fuel produced from subsalt fields such as Lula further offshore. Petrobras also is currently building a natural gas processing plant at the Complexo Petroquimico do Rio de Janeiro refinery, known as Comperj, not far from Itaguai Port. The Route 4B pipeline would also mesh with a recent deal between Equinor and Petrobras, which recently signed a memorandum of understanding involving gas and electricity generation projects.
The pipeline is the latest in a series of natural gas infrastructure projects to gain momentum in recent months after the government earlier this year launched the New Gas Market program aimed at ending state-led oil company Petrobras’ monopoly, opening the sector to increased competition that would reduce energy prices and attracting greater private investment.
Brazil also needs an expanded offshore gas-export network to capitalize on the massive volumes of gas associated with oil deposits discovered in the subsalt frontier. Many of the reservoirs hold gas-to-oil ratios of greater than 50%. Oil companies currently inject about two-thirds of the offshore gas produced because there isn’t a way to ship the gas to consumers onshore.
The Route 1 and Route 2 pipelines currently serve offshore fields in the Campos and Santos basins, with the Route 3 pipeline currently under construction and expected to enter service in 2021. The three pipelines combined hold installed capacity to ship about 44 million cu m/d. That capacity, however, will be saturated by 2026, when several new fields enter production, according to government and industry estimates.
Brazil needs to build at least three new offshore gas-export pipelines by the mid-2020s or face the risk of not utilizing the gas resources already discovered off the country’s coast, according to a development plan outlined by the government’s Energy Research Co., or EPE. The EPE mapped out two alternatives for the Route 4 pipeline, with each estimated to cost about $1.1 billion to build.
Cosan previously applied for permits to build the Route 4A pipeline in 2014. The Route 4A pipeline would link Carcara and Norte de Carcara to shore via the Petrobras-operated Merluza Field, with the 285-km pipeline making landfall at Cubatao in Sao Paulo state. The ongoing development at Comperj and Itaguai Port likely make the Route 4B alternative more economically attractive, according to industry officials.
The Route 4A project, however, remains in the planning phase, with the licensing process still underway, according to IBAMA.
In September, Cosan officials said that the company didn’t yet have a timeline for making a final decision on the Route 4 pipeline. “It’s a very challenging decision at a time when the market is also changing,” Ricardo Hatschbach, Cosan’s director for new business, told S&P Global Platts on the sidelines of the Rio Pipeline Conference.
Cosan, which did not immediately respond to requests for further comment, owns 50% of fuel distributor Raizen, a joint venture with Shell and the country’s No. 3 fuel seller. The company also holds a 63.1% stake in Sao Paulo state natural gas distributor Comgas.
— Jeff Fick