PetroSA: Inspiring a bright future for South Africa’s energy supply

The oil and gas sector is one under pressure and innovation always lurks just under the surface. For PetroSA it has been a busy year, with the opening on its geosciences facility one of the major highlights.

That Cape Town-based project became a reality last August for the state-owned oil company, with the site boasting a state-of-the-art geoscience collaboration, visualisation and technology centre that will help guide its oil and gas explorations while providing a training ground for South Africa’s next generation of upstream professionals. 

The facility cost around R15 million to build and is equipped with the latest visualisation and collaboration equipment, the Ulwazi Collaboration and Visualisation Centre takes seismic and geological data and translates them into detailed, 3D views of subsurface formations. 

The site is like no other in South Africa and it was reported last year that it will be used by PetroSA’s upstream asset teams in their search for and development of oil and gas prospects, enabling them to make quicker and better informed decisions on how to develop the company’s upstream assets. 

It will also be used on a daily basis to monitor and guide drilling operations for Project Ikhwezi, PetroSA’s flagship initiative to secure additional feedstock reserves from its southern offshore gas fields in order to sustain its Mossel Bay gas-to-liquids (GTL) refinery. 

Speaking at the launch, PetroSA Group CEO Nosizwe Nokwe-Macamo said the facility would ensure that “collaborative, multi-disciplinary evaluations of new drilling information and drilling events are done efficiently prior to responding to the event. 

shutterstock_169609970“Collaboration between our multi-disciplinary sub-surface teams in Ulwazi furthers our understanding and description of geological structures and reservoirs, which lead to improved decision-making in areas such as well placement, field development planning and reserves estimates.” 

The Cape Town facility is of course just one aspect of Petro SA’s core functions and as such, the company is responsible for managing the country’s commercial assets in the petroleum industry, including the world’s largest commercial gas-to-liquids plant at Mossel Bay in the Western Cape.

PetroSA was formed in January 2002 from the merger of three previous entities: Mossgas (Pty) Limited, Soekor (Pty) Limited, and parts of the Strategic Fuel Fund Association. PetroSA is a subsidiary of the Central Energy Fund (CEF), which is wholly owned by the State and reports to the Department of Energy.

PetroSA is committed to the exploration and production of oil and natural gas; while the business sells petrochemical products to the country’s major oil companies and exports petrochemical products to the international markets. 

The primary business functions at PetroSA are the exploration and production of oil and natural gas, but beyond that the company acquires local and international upstream petroleum ventures and aims to develop domestic refining and liquid fuels logistical infrastructure. The company is also responsible for the marketing and trading of oil and petrochemicals.

Its aim is to become a fully integrated, commercially competitive national oil company, supplying at least 25 per cent of the country’s liquid fuel needs by 2020. 

The Mossel Bay Gas To Liquid facility is one of the world’s biggest GTL refineries and produces synthetic fuels from offshore gas. The refinery produces ultra-clean, low-sulphur, low-aromatic synthetic fuels and high-value products converted from natural methane-rich gas and condensate using a unique GTL Fischer Tröpsch technology.

Among the main products created are unleaded petrol, kerosene (paraffin), diesel, propane, liquid oxygen and nitrogen, distillates, eco-fuels and alcohols. 

With its lofty ambitions to supply so much of South Africa’s fuel demands, in October came news that PetroSA was on the hunt for prospective acquisition targets.

“We’ve got an aspiration to enter into the downstream market by way of an acquisition,” stated Chief Executive Nosizwe Nokwe-Macamo. “How we do that is something that is not yet completely defined. We would love to acquire one of the companies in this country.” 

It was reported at the time that the company was considering buying a controlling stake in Engen Petroleum Ltd., the nation’s biggest fuel retailer, from Malaysian state oil producer Petroliam Nasional Bhd. 

The Cape Town-based company has also announced plans for a $10 billion oil refinery with China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. that will almost double the country’s capacity to process crude oil into fuels. 

Ensuring the supply of raw materials for the company’s Mossel Bay gas-to-liquids refinery is a key focus, Nokwe-Macamo said. 

PetroSA is drilling off the south coast of South Africa to supply the 45,000-barrel-a-day plant, which was running at about 50 percent capacity because of lower gas supply, Thabo Kgogo, vice president of operations confirmed. 

PetroSA also plans to build an import terminal for liquefied natural gas on the south coast that could cost as much as $510 million. 

The success of PetroSA’s operations is crucial to South Africa’s future energy supply; the organisation is not lacking for ambition and is hopeful of a bright future.