Exploration and development activity is focused in the Bir Rebaa desert, located in the central-eastern part of the country, in blocks 403a/d (Eni 65%-100%), North ROM (Eni 35%), 401a/402a (Eni 55%), 403 (Eni 50%), 405b (Eni 75%) and 212 (Eni 22.38%). In the North Berkine basin, Eni's activities are concentrated in the Sif Fatima II, Zemlet El Arbi and Ourhoud II blocks, where we are 49% operators. We also hold 12.25% in the non-operated blocks 404 and 208. Our Algerian exploration and production operations are regulated by Production Sharing Agreement (PSA) concession contracts. In July 2018 Eni and Sonatrach agreed the extension of block 403, the agreement also includes the construction of a pipeline to connect BRN's assets with MLE with the aim of creating a gas hub. In the Sif Fatima II, Zemlet El Arbi and Ourhoud II concessions in the North Berkine Basin, the accelerated development of the estimated 75 million boe of reserves owned by Eni and an exploration campaign are underway. The oil wells were started up in May 2019. The production of gas fields will start at the same time as the start of the BRN-MLE pipeline.
In December 2018, the consortium formed by Sonatrach, Eni and Total was granted two exploration permits to carry out seismic acquisition activities in the Algerian offshore sector. We are operators of the permit to the east called Skikda where in the spring of 2019 we acquired about 2,000 km2 of 3D seismic and 200 km2 of 2D seismic. In July 2018 Eni and Sonatrach agreed the extension of Block 403. The agreement also includes the construction of a pipeline to connect the assets of Bir Rebaa North (BRN) with Menzel Ledjmet East (MLE) with the aim of creating a gas hub. In the Sif Fatima II, Zemlet El Arbi and Ourhoud II concessions in the North Berkine basin, the accelerated development of the estimated 75 million boe of reserves owned by Eni and an exploration campaign are underway. The oil wells were started up in May 2019. During the same year, oil production start-up was achieved by means of seven production wells and the connection to the existing facilities of the BRN area in Block 403. In the first months of 2020, gas production began with the drilling of two wells and the connection of two additional wells to the existing facilities, following the completion of the pipeline from BRN to the MLE treatment plan in Block 405b, as well as of exploration and delineation activities in the area. The project will allow for the export of associated gas from Block 403 (BRN and BRSW) and the development of gas fields in the Berkine North's Blocks. Moreover, in 2019 activities yielded positive results also owing to the discovery of petroleum and natural gas in the Ourhoud II concession.
In 2019, development activities in Blocks 403a/d and ROM North, 401a/402a, 403, 405b, and 404, concerned production optimisation. Development activities in Block 208 concerned, instead, the continued development of the El Merk field with the drilling of production and water injection wells.
In July 2020 we signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Sonatrach, in the presence of the Minister of Energy, for joint work aimed at identifying exploration, development and production opportunities and extending the fast track development model successfully applied to the North Berkine project. Furthermore, agreements have been concluded for the gas marketing of the North Berkine Blocks and the commercial conditions of the gas import contract in Italy for the thermal year 2020-21.
In 2021 development activities mainly concerned the Berkine North area (Eni’s interest 49%) with the drilling and hook-up of an additional gas production well and three additional oil production wells as well as workover activities, production optimization at the Zea field in the Block 403 a/d (Eni’s interest from 65% to 100%) and the BRN/BRW field in the Block 403 (Eni operator with a 50% interest) as well as the Block 405b (Eni operator with a 75% interest) and the Block 404 (Eni’s interest 12.25%); and maintenance activity at the Block 208 (Eni’s interest 12.5%).
In December 2021 we signed a new oil contract related to the onshore Berkine basin area, in an area of 7,880 km2. We shared the commitment to create an ambitious exploration and development program in the area. In the first phase, the project envisages the fast-tracked development of reserves estimated at 135 million barrels of oil equivalent, with a start-up of production expected by the end of 2022. This project will enhance synergies with existing plants. In March 2022 we announced with Sonatrach a significant oil and associated gas discovery in the Zemlet el Arbi concession, located in the Berkine North Basin in the Algerian desert. Preliminary estimates of the size of the discovery are around 140 million barrels of oil in place.