Discovery of an oil deposit in Benefica
This testimonial of Jean-Pierre Amory has been extracted from the book “TOTAL EP ANGOLA – PIONEERS IN 1953 – LEADERS IN 2013”
"I arrived in Angola in February 1955. It was a Sunday, and the city of Luanda looked just like a small Portuguese city with its red rooftops and white walls. It made a fine sight when arriving by air, and we landed on an airstrip that was still to be tarmacked. I was one of a small number of young engineers sent to Angola, where Petrofina’s exploration department had, for ten years, held an exploration concession covering an area of 32,000km2, mostly onshore. In 18 months, the geologists had drawn maps and carried out geodesic surveys, and had completed the gravimetry and a few seismic lines, a revolutionary technique at the time.
Our efforts to discover the Benfica oil field required an extensive seismic survey, and in the early days our resources were extremely limited: a dozen or so men travelled with light loads, digging holes one or two meters deep, and then drawing lines.
In order to interpret this seismic data, an American engineer had to do all of the calculations by hand. We really had the most rudimentary equipment!
We began drilling in Benfica using a rig purchased in Germany that could drill down to 1800m... but we were soon to realize that there was nothing to be found at 1800m. It was at this point that Petrofina ordered much more powerful equipment from the USA, worth over $1m. With that kind of money, we had the Rolls Royce of drilling equipment with four 100 horse power engines, hydraulic gears, and anything else we could possibly want!
We drilled two wells – Benfica 1 and 2 – with little success. However, Benfica 3 would go on to produce around 500,000 barrels in just a few years. It wasn’t quite what we were looking for, but it was proof that there was oil in Angola. And this was a good thing, because when we launch such a large exploration program, it’s nice to be able to say to the board of directors that, ‘Yes, we are spending money, but it is highly likely that we will find something’. So we didn’t skimp on publicity, and with drills still winding down at Benfica 3 we filmed the petrol gushing from the well. Our discovery stole the show at the World Petroleum Congress in Rome in lune 1955, because at the time nobody believed that there was any oil south of the Sahara!
But we still found oil and, from that time onwards, if we wanted to be the real pioneers we had to build a facility to refine our crude oil. It was with this in mind that we decided to build a small refinery in 1958, with an initial capacity of 10,000 barrels per day. It was a single distillation tower with some condensation, but it was the first of its kind in Africa. Its capacity was increased to 40,000 barrels per day, in spite of the instability that reigned before Angola’s independence."