BUCHAREST Black Sea Oil & Gas said it aims to start production at two gas fields off Romania by 2019, becoming the first company to tap the country's vast offshore resources.
The Romanian company, controlled by private equity firm Carlyle Group LP (CG.O), discovered two wells holding an estimated 10 billion cubic metres of gas in 2008 some 120 kilometers offshore, where it has rights over the XIII Pelican and XV Midia Shallow blocks.
"We're hopeful for the first gas in 2019," Chief Executive Mark Beacom said in an interview for the Reuters Central & Eastern Europe Investment Summit, conducted at his office on Wednesday.
He said the company is working on engineering works, talks with state gas pipeline operator Transgaz ROTGN.BX, sales agreements and other activities needed to secure shareholders' final investment agreement.
"At that point we could turn to our shareholders and partners and ask for a check for about $400 million to go ahead and build everything."
The company aims to get shareholder agreement in October but Beacom said that could potentially be pushed back due to uncertain regulations.
"What has been and continues to be our biggest challenge is the regulatory process," said Beacom, who estimates total investment in exploration and appraisal so far at $200 million.
"Offshore we're going to be the first and we're embarking on a regulatory process that's never been done before and as we try and go through it we uncover all sorts of issues where there's a lack of clarity on how to proceed."
The Romanian government plans to overhaul royalty levies for oil and gas production this year and Beacom said that could affect shareholders' decision on whether the project is viable.
The company also aims to drill two more exploration wells at year-end, targeting similar finds to the Ana and Doina fields it has already discovered, which Beacom said would have a 10-year lifespan and whose existing infrastructure could later be used to tie in other fields.
Beacom said the company will need to hire a general contractor to build the entire project before it asks for shareholders' final approval later this year.
Production at the two fields would cover 10 percent of Romania's annual gas needs, but Beacom said potential buyers would also like the possibility to export.
Unlike other countries in the region, Romania is almost entirely energy independent. It generally imports less than 10 percent of its gas needs from Russia, with the rest produced locally largely by state producer Romgaz ROSNG.BX and OMV Petrom (ROSNP.BX), controlled by Austria's OMV.
Romgaz said this month that it will start production in 2019 at a new onshore gas field, its biggest find in three decades.
In the Black Sea, Russia's second-largest oil company Lukoil and a joint venture of OMV Petrom and ExxonMobil have both made important deepwater gas discoveries.
"I think the Black Sea is turning into a deepwater play and is bypassing the more continental shelf plays that you see elsewhere," Beacom said.
"Romania just has a unique situation where it is basically the only source of gas around other than Russia, and that puts it in a very powerful position because ... to have a gas source on the edge of Western Europe is just fabulous."
(Editing by Susan Fenton)