It'll be awhile before U.S. deepwater oil and gas drilling returns to its prior pace. But that's far from the case in Brazil with its steady string of offshore discoveries. In fact, with the clear intention of preventing a catastrophe in their own increasingly active waters, Brazilian authorities were the first from outside the U.S. to sit down with BP (NYSE: BP ) once the company's investigation of its own Gulf of Mexico accident had been wrapped up.
Following passage by the Brazilian congress of a new set of energy regulations, I'm eager for Foolish investors to cast a close eye on activity in the country's prolific deepwater basins. Specifically, it seems the fortunes of Petroleo Brasiliero (NYSE: PBR ) , aka Petrobras, the nation's state-controlled oil company, merit attention.
Following months of haggling, the lower house of the Brazilian congress has approved regulations that will designate Petrobras as the sole operator for all fields that haven't already been through the auction process. Petrobras will also be granted no less than a 30% position in each of the exploratory partnerships.
Successful bidding by outside companies will be based on offers by those companies that provide the largest percentage of the oil ultimately produced to the Brazilian government. This setup will permit the government to provide royalties to nonproducing states and cities and to establish a fund for social programs throughout the nation.
The depths at which we are going to hit oil are quickly increasing and Brazil's presalt area can involve working in nearly 10,000 feet of South Atlantic waters, before penetrating a layer of salt and hitting oil some 15,000 feet from the seabed. Nevertheless, the effort can be so sufficiently rewarding that Petrobras plans on spending up to $224 billion in this challenging area by 2014.
Companies with a history of working with Petrobras offshore Brazil include Chevron (NYSE: CVX ) , Spain's Repsol (NYSE: REP ) , and ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) . Beyond that, as an indication that the sluggish pace in the Gulf of Mexico isn't indicative of the rest of the world, Chevron has picked up new deepwater blocks off Liberia, in the Black Sea, and in the South China Sea.
Big Oil clearly is spreading its water-wings. However, it's difficult to find a company that is capturing the deepwater more significantly than Petrobras.