Abu Dhabi's Ghasha field lies in a hydrocarbon Bermuda triangle – claimed by three overlapping concessions – and its 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas have been left undeveloped.
The field's promise has attracted the eye of newcomers to Abu Dhabi from China National Petroleum Corporation to Norway's Statoil.
"It's one of the big fields that's not developed," said Anders Hatteland, Statoil's senior Middle East vice president for exploration and production. "There are a lot of gas opportunities."
Ghasha, a ragged-edged offshore field, is located just north of the industrial hub of Ruwais. According to a 2003 estimate by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, Ghasha held 1.1 billion barrels of ultimately recoverable oil in addition to the gas. But a couple of factors make Ghasha challenging.
It falls simultaneously under the concession areas of Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company (Adma-Opco), the primary offshore oil joint venture; Zakum Development Company, the ExxonMobil-led venture to boost Upper Zakum's output with artificial islands; and Abu Dhabi Oil Company, a Japanese-UAE joint venture.
Ghasha is also considered delicate from an environmental viewpoint. Turtles and sea cows circle waters as shallow as 3 to 30 metres.
Assets such as Ghasha, long left ignored, are attracting more attention as the emirate's need for gas grows with its industrial diversification plan and the field of bidders in Abu Dhabi grows larger.
Chinese, South Korean and German companies have set up offices in Abu Dhabi to make their pitches to Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) and the Supreme Petroleum Council (SPC), the official body that sets strategic hydrocarbon policy.
Statoil was invited to pre-qualify to bid for the emirate's main offshore concession and is looking at offshore opportunities including Ghasha, citing its long-term recovery rate in Norway of 60 per cent. That approaches 70 per cent, the benchmark endorsed by Ali Al Jarwan, the chief executive of Adma-Opco.
"We have a dialogue," said Mr Hatteland. "We have conveyed to Adnoc and the SPC that we have a long-term ambition."
An issue for Statoil besides the fiscal terms will be the length of the concession, key to pursuing a high recovery rate."There are potentially so many opportunities in Abu Dhabi, but it isn't enough just to know the opportunities – they have to have the real terms on the table," said Christopher Gunson, a lawyer at Pillsbury in Abu Dhabi.
"Adnoc, they've been involved in their own domestic oil production for many years, so from a certain extent, they can do a lot of it themselves if they want to," he added.
Elsewhere in the region, Statoil has been expected by analysts to make a play in Iraqi Kurdistan after selling off its share of West Qurna 2 in the south of Iraq back to its joint-venture partner.
"When we sold back the equity to Lukoil, we didn't say no to Iraq,we said no to the project," said Mr Hatteland. "One of the things that I find that's interesting with Iraqi Kurdistan is that it's one of these places where you actually have a liquid [mergers and acquisitions] market. You don't find that many places around in what I call the national oil company territory."