About the author

 

Norbert Rabe is a retired chief geophysicist from the former Military Office for Strategic Industries of Madagascar, the state organization in charge of hydrocarbon research, still known under its French acronym OMNIS, and has over 25 years experience in the exploration sector of the oil and gas industry. Omnis is no longer a military entity and stands now for "Office des Mines Nationales et Industries Stratégiques"

His interest in research for, and exploration of oil and gas was first aroused in the late 1950s when the "Société des Pétroles de Madagascar (SPM), a French oil exploration company then working in the southwestern of Madagascar (the Tulear region), hired him as a calculator. He stayed for 2 years with SPM before returning to study late in 1960. He pursued higher education in mathematics and physical sciences, first in Antananarivo (the capital city of Madagascar), and later in Strasbourg (France). In 1967, he graduated from Strasbourg University  with a Licence degree (four years of study) in  Earth Sciences, and also obtained the diploma of geophysicist from the Institute for Geophysics of the same French University .

 

He joined the  French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) in 1968, and was entrusted with heading its Saharan Geophysical Station (Research Centre on Arid Zones or CZRA) in Benis-Abbes (Algeria) until June 1969.

 

After his return home in 1971, he worked as a geophysical engineer with the Continental Oil Company of Madagascar, an affiliate of Conoco Inc. In this position, which he held until 1973, he had, among other things, advanced the idea that in all likelihood, there are two petroleum hinges in the Morondava Basin, on the southwestern coast of Madagascar, namely that of Belo-upon-Mer–Morondava in the post-Karroo formation and  that of Miandrivazo-Malaimbandy in the Karroo  formation.

 

In the mid-1970s, he got in touch with Frigate Captain Ratsiraka who was appointed president of the newly formed Omnis before becoming president of the Democratic Republic of Madagascar shortly after. President Ratsiraka, thereafter, appointed him as a  Geophysicist within the Oil Department Research of Omnis in 1976 where he essentially performed subsurface mapping and interpretating work. In the course of that year, as a representative of the Omnis, he was assigned the task of monitoring an aeromagnetic survey covering an area of about 5,000 sq km (1,930 sq. miles), carried out by Hunting Geology and Geophysics Ltd, in order to know more about the volcano distribution and the basement depth in the Soalala Namakia area (Mahajanga).

 

Throughout 1977, just a year after Omnis was set up, Norbert introduced  its junior technical staff to geophysical activities of large scale.

During the third quarter of that year, Western Geophysical Co (USA) carried out an Omnis-funded marine seismic survey on the MORONDAVA-MANGOKY continental shelf (Eponge), which recorded 300 km (186 miles) of seismic lines.

Norbert  went aboard their ship along with his junior staff as head of an Omnis liaison mission.

A year later, he was honoured with the title of Chevalier of the National Order of Madagascar.

 

In 1978, from May to October , he headed another mission with a view to follow an onshore seismic survey totalling 386 km (240 miles) of seismic lines, once again funded by Omnis, in the Sikily, Dindoha, and Manja areas, and contracted out to the "Compagnie Générale de Géophysique" of France (CGG). Later in that year, he took part in the interpretation of the results in Massy (France)

 

As from 1979, Norbert was set to the task of promoting oil research in Madagascar. So, he was involved in several discussions with petroleum experts from the World Bank, that resulted in the funding of the projects he advocated. In particular, MM. Bauer and Fitzgerald, consultants from the World Bank, agreed with him to rank Serinam I, an area of some 10,000 square km (3,861 sq. miles)  in the Belo-Upon-Tsiribihina region, at the top of the list of zones of interest to be unearthed. Madagascar was, then, granted an IDA credit of US$ 12,000,000 (IDA1, MAG 1016) which, among other things, financed a seismic survey by Petroconsultants (Switzerland) in the Morombe area and a gravity survey by BEICIP (France) in the Bemolanga area.

In September of that year, he took part in an International Conference on "The Gondwana Continent as Viewed from Madagascar", held in Antananarivo, the capital city of Madagascar, where he presented  a paper on "The Tectonics of Madagascar".

 

A Department of Geophysics was set up within the Omnis in 1980, and Norbert was appointed at its head as chief geophysicist. In August he went to Washington to submit to the World Bank a program for exploring the potentialities of the Tsimiroro heavy oil area, in the onshore Morondava Basin. Actually, the French SPM once guessed the total amount of Tsimiroro heavy oil deposits to be about 2 billion barrels. As at that time the World Bank earmarked US$ 240 m to be lent to Madagascar for her energy policy, president Ratsiraka and Omnis thought it sound to dedicate that sum to a pilot project for light oil production from the heavy oil deposits of Tsimororo with Canadian assistance ! It goes without saying that Norbert strongly opposed the idea, and instead proposed an integrated research program that consisted of seismic and  magnetic surveys, and a series of appraisal drillings, which the World Bank approved without hesitation. As a result, Madagascar was awarded a second IDA credit to the tune of  US$ 16,000,000. Indeed, if the program yields positive results, the building of an upgrading pilot-plant could be considered. It should be noted that, out of the ten drillings performed, only one was sucessful. It is also worth mentioning that, thanks to these IDA credits, Omnis achieved to  (1) modernise its laboratories and core  library,(2)  purchase scientific instruments such as magnetometers and gravimeters together with ten cars, and (3) offer training abroad or at home for  two score of Omnis senior officers and technicians from various sectors.

 

During that year, Omnis carried out a magnetic survey on the zone VI of the Bemolanga area and, thereafter, Norbert tentatively produced a map of residual magnetic anomalies. The results of the experience and its low cost so impressed the World Bank that they agreed to the purchase of a proton magnometer and four extra ATVs (Toyota) for Omnis future operations.

 

Throughout 1981 he was busy dealing with five geophysical companies and sixteen oil companies following the launching of an international bidding on oil and gas exploration rights for the areas he promoted, that is, Serinam and Bemaraha which were picked up by Amoco Oil Corp, and  Sakaraha and Beroroha by Occidental Petroleum Corp.

 

From May to November 1982, Geophysical Service International (GSI) undertook an onshore seismic survey totalling 800 km (497miles) of seismic lines on the Morombe area thanks to a funding from the World Bank. Norbert and Harry Hugues from Petroconsultants supervised the survey.

 

It is worth noting that the total of Omnis zone of activities around the estuary of the Mangoky River, in the Morondava Basin, covered some 12,000 square km, (4,633 sq. miles). This zone was selected for the following reasons:

first, in 1955 an SPM drilling performed on SK1 (Sikily) led to the discovery of a gas pocket with a daily flow rate of 75,000 Cubic Meter (m³) or 2,648 Mscfd which dropped to 30,000 Cubic Meter (m³) or 1,059 Mscfd after 23 hours;

second, a drilling conducted by Total on Eponge 1 in the early 1970s gave rise to a gaz eruption the flow rate of which was computed at 20,000 Cubic Meter (m³) per day (706 Mscfd).

The GSI seismic survey  brought into light a huge Paleodelta in the southern part of the Mangoky River mouth. That should portend the existence of a promising oil structure according to Norbert's theory.

In August, Norbert attended a workshop held in Oslo (Norway) under the joint auspices of the UNDP and the Norwegian Oil Corp (NOPEC). He took this opportunity to develop ties with the latter who then showed interest in conducting speculative marine seismic surveys in areas offshore Madagascar. NOPEC went to Madagascar a few months later, in March 1983, but the director general of Omnis declined to consider their offer. In the meantime, Norbert was appointed chairman of the management committee which oversees the association between Omnis and OXY.

 

In 1984, that is, nearly ten years after he advanced the hypothesis about the  likelihood of two petroleum hinges existing in the Morondava Basin, Norbert selected NAMAKIA 1 in the southern part of the Belo-Upon-Tsiribihina-Morondava hinge in the post Karroo formation, to be a drilling target for Amoco Oil Co.           

That year he guided also two geophysicists from the Omnis in the preparation of their dissertation for the Diploma of Advanced Studies in Geophysics (DEA) , a post-graduate degree, and sat on the panel of the Madagascar University examiners .

 

In August 1985, he managed to secure  a US$ 450,000 bonus from Amoco Oil Corp. to the profit of Omnis after a hot discussion over the status of MANANDAZA in the Karroo Corridor 40 km (25 miles)  wide and 130 km (81 miles) long which should  be considered as a "potential" area, and not as a "protected" area. It should be noted here that, in September 1988 after Amoco gave up the zone to Shell, Norbert drew the attention of the latter to that potential of the Karroo Corridor, the Lower Sakamena being the target. Since then, it has been stated that, following the find of light oil-shows in Manandaza subsequent to two drillings performed by Shell on Manandaza 1 and Manandaza 2 in 1992, ten barrels of waxy 41 degree API oil have been recovered.

 

In November 1985, during three meetings totalling 6 hours with MM. Bath and Totkar, consultants from the World Bank, and MM. Jan Pointz and James Richard Hasting, Amoco Oil Corp. experts, later joined by Mr. Savoyat, consultant from BEICIPS, Norbert gave a series of technical presentation on the hydrocarbon prospect of  WEST MANAMBOLO with a Cretaceous target. In conclusion, against all the prevailing opinions, he didn't hesitate to propose that the Omnis should take a chance on conducting one exploratory drilling by itself, if need be, despite their obviously high costs. Two years later, early in the last quarter of 1987, PetroCanada agreed to fund  the first ever sole risk exploration drilling  to be performed in Madagascar-that took place on West MANAMBOLO- to the tune of US$ 8,000,000.

So, from  October 1 to  November 19, 1987, according to Omnis directives, and  at PetroCanada's expenses, Bowden Nobles carried out an exploratory drilling to a total depth of 2,600m (8,530 ft) that yielded negative results. Nevertheless, at Norbert's insistence, PetroCanada consented to the funding of two extra drilling-stem tests  (DSTs) which both yielded positive results with combined rates of flow of 446,000 Cubic Meter(m³) per day (16 MMscfpd) and reserves estimated at 1,800 Million cubic meter (63,566 MMscf). Undoubtedly, Manambolo1 is the first natural gas field found in Madagascar, after 40 years of unsuccessful research, and Norbert is fairly entitled to claim its authorship. Unfortunately, due to shortage of funds, these DSTs were of short duration, eight and three hours, respectively. So, as soon as December 1987, Norbert urged for an appraisal drilling to be performed on West Manambolo 2, followed by three DSTs to be conducted on three reservoir rocks located at 1,646m (5,400 ft), 1,776m (5,827 ft), and 1,868 m(6,143 ft). The appraisal drilling on Manambolo 2 will be conducted later in 1993 with a US$ 7,500,000 loan from the BAD. According to the grapevine, the relevant drill-hole would have been wrongly positioned, and, as a result, the then Omnis chief geologist was fired !

 

In the course of 1987, Norbert was relegated to the vague position of "Assistant" with the Omnis Executive Management, in charge of the in-house training of Omnis geologists and geophysicists, though he had been promoted to the rank of "Officer" in the "National Order of Madagascar".

 

In September 1988, at  president Ratsiraka's insistence, Norbert  laid before Shell the importance of  the already mentioned Karroo Corridor. Shell people took an interest  in the zone and three years later, in 1991, carried out a seismic survey and two exploratory drillings. As noted earlier, Shell  then recovered ten barrels of waxy 41°API light oil !

 

At the same time, Norbert informed president Ratsiraka, too, that it appeared to be profitable that ZREN, the joint fertilizer project between N-Ren International Co. and the Malagasy government  for the production of ammonium and urea, be transferred from the East Coast port of Toamasina to Manambolo in that it could make use of both the newly found gas and the phosphates from the Barren Islands which are about 70 km away, northwest of offshore Madagascar.

 

Due to a serious health problem, Norbert underwent an important surgery early in 1989, and went into a kind of semi-retirement since then.

In 1993, however, Omnis called him back to assume the position of "Assistant to the Director General". He was, then, supposed

1° to review, analyse, and reinterpret all files about past oil exploration in Madagascar in the light of his theories and experience;

2° to conceive a new approach to oil research policy of Madagascar for the short, medium, and long-term;

3° to work out a strategy about  the management of  oil activities whether  in association with foreign companies, or not;

4° to provide  the new director general with a detailed report on the progress of his studies twice a month, before submitting a final report at the conclusion of each study !

 

In other words, Norbert was due to take over all the previous tasks performed by the foreign consultants from BEICIP and Petroconsultants who left Madagascar after the World Bank financing came to an end. However, the director general refused to grant Norbert the standard premium, pay rise and other perquisites in kind in consideration of his genuine discovery of the gas field of West Manambolo, on the one hand, and the new position he was proposed, on the other hand. So, Norbert decided to decline the proposal and retired in April 1993.

 

From then on, however, he went on to develop his ideas about the tectonic history of Madagascar and reinterpret the results of all exploration drillings performed since the 1970s with a view to reduce the field of interest zones for exploration. The present book is the outcome of his more than 25 years of experience and personal research which lead him to bring into prominence only 15 per cent of the Malagasy sedimentary basins and continental shelf as promising exploratory areas, as a result of the application of the principles of the Moody and Hill system of wrench-fault tectonics and the consideration of the set of factors crucial to the existence of oil accumulations: temperatures, depth, salinity, permeability, shows, source, reservoir and cap rocks.

 

To conclude this presentation of Norbert Rabe, below are reproduced a few testimonials from a panel of experts who have had the opportunity to work with him.

 

(1) Dr A. KONING of BEICIP, Consultant of the International Bank for

Reconstruction and Development (January 1979 – M/car : Review of Status

of the Petroleum Exploration):

 “Omnis have the good fortune of disposing of the trained geophysicist Norbert RABE, the head of geophysical section, who has been actively in the exploration both abroad and in Madagascar.

These surveys (aeromagnetism, and off shore and on shore seismics) were all planned by him and he would certainly have used the service of a good assistant to share the heavy workload of following the performance of the parties in the field, inspecting the results and assessing the  interpretation”

 

(2) M. JOUBIN of SOQUIP – Consultant of UNDP (March 1979):

" Norbert Rabe should show more flexibility in his interventions. However, one has the feeling that he has a complete mastery over the arguments he push forward".

 

(3) M. Peter JESCHOFNIG, Expert Geologist from OCCIDENTAL PETROLEUM (October 1985):

"It is in the Omnis interest to take advantage of Norbert Rabe's knowledge and experience. To our mind, he is the best Malagasy expert at the moment."

 

 (4) M. Alain BRUNETON, Head of Geophysical Department with BEICIP (July 1987):

If  we wish to have an idea of Madagascar's oil issues in no time, we could not do without Norbert Rabe.

 

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