Petrobras has a long history of discovery and technological innovation in deep waters.

(see Figure 6 “The Incredible Depth Progression”)

Recent discoveries made before the salt layer was deposited (hence the name pre-sal) rank as world class finds due to the large accumulations of high quality light oil which commands a premium in global markets.

To discover these reserves and operate efficiently in deep waters, Petrobras developed its own technology and worked in collaboration with suppliers, universities, and research centers. Petrobras hires drilling rigs, production platforms, vessels, and submarines that set the entire energy industry chain into motion.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Pioneering tech for the PRE-SALT

In 2015, for the third time, Petrobras was awarded the highest recognition for the pioneering technologies it developed for the pre-salt: The OTC Distinguished Achievement Award for Companies, Organizations, and Institutions.

Get to know Petrobras’ pioneering technologies for the pre-salt

Petrobras’ daily oil production in the pre-salt cluster has tripled in the last 4 years:

  • 500,000 barrels of oil per day in 2014
  • 1,500,000 barrels of oil per day in 2018

A comparison with Petrobras’ historic production shows the significance of this result:

  • 1,000,000 barrels of oil per day, in 1998
  • 1,500,000 barrels of oil per day, in 2002

The fast growth in production demonstrates the high productivity of pre-salt wells and represents a significant milestone in the oil industry, especially as the fields are located in deep and ultradeep waters.

Number of Wells x Output
Figure 2

Figure 2




Figure 3

Figure 3



Another fact that shows the high productivity of the pre-salt is the number of producer wells compared to the output volume measured in barrels per day.

In 1984, Petrobras drilled 4108 producer wells to produce 500,000 barrels per day. Remarkably, Petrobras tripled that production volume with only 77 pre-salt wells.

Without sacrificing on the best operational practices, Petrobras has been drilling wells in the pre-salt in progressively less time. Between 2010 and 2018, the average time it takes to build a well in the Santos Basin pre-salt cluster, for example, has decreased 2.5 times. This has been achieved due to improved geological knowledge, new technologies and greater project efficiency.

Mean construction time for offshore wells
  • 2010 310 DAYS
  • 2018 127 DAYS

With the knowledge accumulated in Petrobras’ operations and with technological innovation, the average lift cost of pre-salt oil has dropped gradually over the past few years.

From $9.1 per barrel of oil equivalent (oil + gas), in 2014, to $8.3, in 2015, and less than $8 per barrel in the first quarter of 2016. In 2018, it dropped below $7.

Technology, knowledge, skills, and opportunities for the goods and services industry

The business turnover the pre-salt generates drives the improvement of the goods and services chain, providing technologies, knowledge, professional training, and opportunities to the industry. Most technological challenges are overcome by associating the efforts of the operator and supplier technical teams, which are often supported by scholars and researchers from universities and technology centers.

Pre-salt in the Santos Basin

The output per well in the Santos Basin pre-salt cluster is well above the oil and gas industry’s average. It adds up to about 25,000 barrels of oil per day, on average. Of the ten highest-producing wells in Brazil, nine are in this area.

The most productive one is in the Lula field, with an average daily flow of 36,000 barrels of oil per day.

Meanwhile, Libra, one of the largest and most promising oil and gas production projects ever developed by the offshore industry, has reservoirs that are among the most productive in the world, with oil columns measuring up to 400 meters thick – equivalent to the height of the Sugar Loaf, in Rio de Janeiro.

Figure 4

Figure 4

Figure 5

Figure 5

Understand how the pre-salt was formed

The Pre-salt is a sequence of sedimentary rocks formed more than 100 million years ago, in the geographic space created by the separation of the ancient Continent of Gondwana. More specifically, it was formed by the separation of the current American and African continents, a process that started about 150 million years ago. Initially, great depressions were formed between the two continents, giving rise to large lakes. Over millions of years, the rocks that would give rise to the pre-salt region’s oil were deposited there. Since all the rivers on the continents that separated flew to the lower regions, large amounts of organic matter were deposited there.

As the continents strayed, the organic materials accumulating in the new space were being covered by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean, which was then forming. That was when the layer of salt, which is currently about 2,000 meters thick, started being formed. This layer of salt was deposited on the accumulated organic matter, holding it there for millions of years until thermochemical processes turned the organic layer into hydrocarbons (oil and natural gas).