Back in the early 1990s, Mobil was exploring for oil in Zimbabwe when it came across large hydrocarbon resources in the Cabora Bassa Basin. The petroleum giant explored over an area extending all the way from Victorian Falls in the west of the country through to the Cabora Bassa Basin in the east. It identified and mapped the massive Mzarabani anticline in Africa, which has an area of more than 200 square kilometres, under closure, at favourable depths to host a conventional gas target.
Eventually, however, Mobil concluded that the petroleum system was more likely to be gas prone rather than oil prone. This is not the result that Mobil was after. There was no structured market for gas in the region at the time.
Highlighting this fact was the Pande and Temane gas fields onshore Mozambique of four to five trillion cubic feet. Discovered decades earlier, in the 1960s by Gulf Oil, these gas projects had changed hands multiple times by the time Mobil came to Zimbabwe, yet they were not developed as they couldn’t be monetised. Against that backdrop, Mobil saw little point in trying to discover more gas in the region so relinquished the Cabora Bassa project.
The early 90s saw a pullback in exploration in Africa, particularly in frontier jurisdictions onshore. Majors that had been exploring across the continent left as petroleum prices crashed. BP left Tanzania, while Shell left Kenya.
Nearby countries, including Kenya and Uganda, have since promoted their petroleum potential. This, along with previous exploration programs, attracted a number of juniors that picked up where the majors left off in the Albertine Graben in Uganda.
These junior explorers re-evaluated the data left behind by the majors and saw some overlooked potential in these rift basin plays. That work encouraged the likes of Tullow Oil to farm-in to their acreage, acquire some additional seismic data and drill exploration wells, leading to discoveries.
Zimbabwe, meanwhile, never bothered to promote its petroleum potential, instead promoting its mineral riches including gold, platinum and diamonds at the time.
Invictus Energ’s Cabora Bassa Project
For years, the Cabora Bassa Project, which comprises 250,000 acres in the most prospective part of the Cabora Bassa Basin, remained untouched and overlooked and Mobil’s extensive project data and reports were never made public. The country’s political and economic situation and changes to investment laws under former President Mugabe also worked against the petroleum sector — Zimbabwe was essentially uninvestable from a foreign investment point of view.
In 2010, 25 years after Mobil left Zimbabwe, Zimbabwean national, Scott Macmillan — a former Woodside Energy and AWE Ltd engineer, and now Invictus Energy Ltd (ASX: IVZ) MD — got his hands on Mobil’s $30 million dataset. The extensive exploration undertaken by Mobil made evident the significant size and technical merits of the Cabora Bassa project.
Here, Invictus has a total prospective resource of 9.25 Tcf plus 294 million barrels of conventional gas / condensate (gross mean unrisked) across the Cabora Bassa Project (Special Grant 4571). The project contains the world class multi-Tcf Mzarabani and Msasa conventional gas-condensate prospects. The Mzarabani Prospect is potentially the largest, undrilled seismically defined structure onshore Africa (200km2 under closure) at 8.2 Tcf.
Not only is there a lot of gas but potentially also a lot of liquid associated with it as well, with 249 million barrels of conventional gas-condensate. With this liquid condensate resource, the Mzarabani Prospect could be even bigger than the famous Dorado oil discovery — the largest oil discovery in Australia this century, which led to Santos acquiring Quadrant Energy last year.
In addition, Invictus’ Msasa Prospect also has elephant scale potential — estimated to contain 1.05 Tcf + 44 million barrels of conventional gas / condensate (gross mean unrisked) across three horizons.
The Mzarabani and Msasa prospects are both stacked targets, having several prospective horizons that can each be tested by a single well. This greatly enhances chance of success with multiple potential combinations of reservoir traps and seals. New geological and geophysical work has de-risked the acreage, adding to the historical Mobil dataset.
Gas sale MOUs
Invictus entered a MoU with Tatanga Energy late last year. Under the agreement, and in the event of a commercial gas discovery, the Cabora Bassa Project will provide gas supply for a 500-megawatt gas-to-power plant. The minimum gas supply covered by the MoU is about 11Bcf per annum and could be increased to about 36.5Bcf. The parties will work together to investigate the economic and commercial viability of supplying gas from the project to the plant. The gas will then be sold to the national grid and to other captive clients including mines, industrial and other large consumers of energy in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia.
This is Invictus’ second offtake MOU, the first signed in May 2019 with Sable Chemicals to investigate the economic and commercial viability of supplying natural gas from to the Sable fertiliser plant located in Kwekwe, Zimbabwe. Under a 20-year supply term, Sable would be contracted to take 13 billion cubic feet of gas per year with an option to increase to 26 billion cubic feet.
While Invictus and its Cabora Bassa Project is early-stage and not without risk, the company currently has a market capitalisation of just $30 million.