BP plc and partner BHP Billiton Ltd. last week began exporting oil and natural gas from their long-delayed Atlantis project in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GOM).

When it reaches full capacity -- expected by the end of this month -- Atlantis is designed to pump 200,000 b/d of oil and 180 MMcf/d of gas. BP, the operator, owns a 56% stake in the project; BHP has a 44% working interest.

"The water depths and reservoir structure make Atlantis among the most technologically challenging developments undertaken by BP," said BP's Andy Inglis, CEO of Exploration and Production. "Start-up is an important milestone as we grow production from our strong upstream portfolio in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere in the world."

Atlantis, which was discovered in 1998, is located 125 miles south of New Orleans near Green Canyon Block 743 in about 6,500 feet of water. The field covers six blocks. Production actually began in October with the commissioning of wells and facilities, but the export ability is considered a landmark event. With its natural gas facilities and export pipelines now fully commissioned, gas sales have started and oil volumes are increasing, BP said. Additional wells will continue to be brought on stream, and the facility is expected to reach plateau production by end of the month.

Oil and gas will be transported to existing Outer Continental Shelf and onshore interconnections via the Caesar oil and Cleopatra gas pipeline systems, which are part of the Mardi Gras Transportation System. Gas from Atlantis is to exported via the Cleopatra pipeline to the Ship Shoal 332A platform, where it will interconnect with Manta Ray Gathering System, and from there to the Nautilus Gas Transportation System into Louisiana. BP has a 65% ownership interest in Mardi Gras. BHP owns a 25% equity stake in Caesar and a 22% stake in Cleopatra.

"The Atlantis South field is a significant hydrocarbon resource," said BHP CEO J. Michael Yeager. "Although we have considerable drilling remaining, we are pleased to begin oil and gas production from this world-class field. BHP Billiton's production from the Gulf of Mexico is set for a dramatic increase in the years ahead, and Atlantis is a key part of that growth."

Atlantis originally was scheduled to ramp up in 2006 (see NGI, Sept. 8, 2003). However, after discovering problems with the moorings in its deepwater Thunder Horse platform, Atlantis' start-up was delayed to the end of this year (see NGI, Feb. 12). Thunder Horse, with a nameplate capacity of 250,000 b/d of oil and 200 MMcf/d of gas, is expected to ramp up in late 2008.

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