Panama City – Some 900 million barrels of crude oil have been detected at two basins in eastern Panama, representing a potential contribution to the country's coffers of $15 billion over 20 years, the National Energy Secretariat said.
A geological study conducted by Venezuelan firm OTS detected the deposits in the Garachine-Sambu and Bayano-Chucunaque-Atrato basins of Darien province, which borders Colombia, Energy Secretary Juan Manuel Urriola said Tuesday in a statement.
The quality of the oil deposits has not yet been determined but Urriola estimated their "commercial potential" at some $15 billion in taxes and royalties based on the consultant's estimate of a per-barrel price of $100 over 20 years.
The Venezuelan firm recommended that in the bidding process the exploratory areas be divided into four geographical blocks per basin, Urriola said.
OTS will submit a prospectus containing "all the information already classified and digitized through the use of specialized software and which will enable the bidding process to begin" on an unspecified date, the statement said.
Urriola announced on July 5 the discovery of the oil deposits, saying that before the end of 2011 a bid process for exploration rights and for determining the deposits' quality and volume would be launched.
In the statement published Tuesday, the Energy Secretariat said President Ricardo Martinelli is pushing for oil exploration because of Panama's need to have its own energy resources and lessen the country's dependence on oil derivatives, the high cost of which has caused local fuel prices to soar.
Martinelli said in April 2010 that oil deposits had been detected in Darien and that a study showed that oil seams located in Colombia reach as far as Panama.
Oil exploration in Panama dates back to the beginning of last century when geological surface surveys were begun in Bocas del Toro and Darien provinces, the Energy Secretariat says.
More than 36 exploratory wells have been drilled over the years and geologists have acquired geophysical information over an area of almost 10,000 sq. kilometers (3,860 sq. miles) - including images of the country's marine subsoil - that confirms the presence of hydrocarbons.