Note: originally published in E.N.I.’s Ecos on 1998.
The discovery of the giant El Borma oilfield by Agip technicians in 1964 was an event full of promise for the future and opened the era of cooperation between Eni and Tunisia.
Back in 1956 Agip had staked on El Borma, an area of about 800 km south of Tunis which is hidden among the dunes of the Great Eastern Erg in the Sahara. Borma in Tunisian means saw teeth and the dunes remind one of a threatening blade.
The zone is almost inaccessible; early exploration was done by distance surveying from helicopters. The black gold rush had broken out in North Africa, but no-one thought of Tunisia, although the country had won its independence in 1956 under the leadership of Habib Bourguiba.
A group of young geologists from Agip, very well trained and imbued with courage and the pioneering spirit, thought they should embark upon this adventure.
In April 1960, Enrico Mattei met Bourguiba at Salsomaggiore, where the President of Tunisia was taking a health cure. Two months later, in Rome, the agreement was signed: El Borma was designated an oil area of common interest. In the middle of the Sahara, even a certainty may become a mirage.
An anticlinal structure, or fold in the subsoil was found, in which oil might have accumulated. But the signals coming from the deeper layers were still weak; monitoring was impeded by the thick sand covering the area. Yet Agip's team of experts (geologists, topographers, micro-paleontologists) felt that the enterprise was becoming increasingly promising.
On March 27, 1961, Eni and Tunisia founded Sitep, a 50-50 company that was to become a model of modern integration between a producer country and an oil company. On September 4, 1961 the El Borma concession was assigned. Fortune seemed against it. Air reconnaissance missions were interrupted for some months because of a territorial controversy with Algeria (and it was rumored that a European power was behind it).
But the delay did not compromise the exploration. On December 13, 1963 the location for a well was identified. Drilling began and work went on doggedly, although the situation was not hopeful and definite indications were not forthcoming.
So the task of drilling the well was given to an Agip team that was supposed to work in Libya. If (as expected) the El Borma results proved negative, the equipment would already be well on the way to Libya.
On October 24, 1964 a core sample from 3,000 meters below the surface contained oil. With bated breath the technicians drilled down to a depth of more than 4,200 meters. Again they struck oil. At this point, the Agip team postponed their departure for Libya indefinitely. ]
Their surprise matched their jubilation. El Borma is not a normal oilfield, but a giant with reserves of more than a billion barrels. It has been recognized as the number one field in the history of oil and gas in Tunisia and one of the biggest in the Sahara. Success came just two and a half years after the concession, thereby setting a record.
Over the years Agip has increased its efforts until, with the discovery of further, albeit smaller fields, it has attained its present present-day image of the biggest oil operator in the country.
In 1997, the total output of the fields operated directly and indirectly by Agip amounted to some 10.4 million barrels, about 1.34 million tons, equivalent to 36.4 percent of Tunisian production.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)