Who says North Sea Oil is dead? Eight billion barrels in one field says it isn’t.

Sometimes the perceived demise of the North Sea as an oil-producing region is widely reported with what comes across as glee, and it’s a pet annoyance of mine.  When you do a bit of travelling within the industry, and take time to pick through some of the hugely challenging projects that spider across the region, the immensity and scale of the North Sea oil industry presents its true self.

I challenge you to rattle out a Google, Bing, or Yahoo! news search on the matter of North Sea Oil.  What becomes immediately apparent is that too much focus is centred on ‘the final nail in the coffin’ opinion pieces, and I’m asking you to read past those doomsayers because that’s just not the case at all for the future of the region.  ‘The death of the North Sea’ sells newspapers, attracts internet clicks, and cuts a division amongst interested parties and politicians, but it’s as far from the truth as can be.  To counter the mongers of doom I was going to challenge you one more time to scour the internet for projects such as Culzean, Clair Ridge, and Mariner, but leaving it to you would make me a lazy blogger so to save you time and to indulge myself I’ve linked them for you.

All three have characteristics of a developing oil and gas region, not an oil province at its life’s end.  While Mariner (heavy oil) and Culzean (high pressure / high temperature) bring exciting challenges to the industry and demand cutting edge technology to make them happen, the outstanding prospect in the entire UK continental shelf is the BP Clair Ridge area.

Clair Ridge, a fractured reservoir west of the Shetland Isles in Scotland, UK

The first time I saw the 8 billion barrels of oil in place figure mooted for the west of Shetland field I raised an eyebrow, because some research on the issue of oil field longevity in the UK sector reveals that the Forties field, a stunningly prolific field that is renowned for the giant reserves it has produced for 45 years and counting, was indeed  a 5 billion barrel field.  The Forties, now operated by Apache, is so prolific that it still produces 60,000 barrels of oil per day and I’d hedge that it’ll keep giving for some time to come.  Apache have continued to make the most of their UK offshore assets, and within the industry are renowned for their streamlining abilities.  To doubt their ability to continue a successful stewardship of the Forties would be unwise.

But let’s get back to the Clair Ridge area development and dwell on that stunning figure.  As some industry insiders may know, Clair Ridge phase 2 is underway, and the area in general is estimated by BP to “continue producing until 2050 at a peak rate of more than 100,000 barrels of oil per day”.  Throw into the mix the prospect of Clair Ridge phase 3 feasibility studies being carried out and perhaps you may build a picture of why the reported premature demise, decommissioning, and negativity with regards to the North Sea, irks me.

North Sea decommissioning is a massive opportunity for oil service companies going forward, but the prospect of dismantling the UK’s oil and gas platforms should be a side-by-side strategy to making the most of what we have, renewing viable fields with new technologies, and edging towards what we haven’t even found or accounted for yet.

What we haven’t found yet is a blog for another day though, for the subject is as wide as the Atlantic Ocean.  Literally.

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Related articles:

North Sea Oil. The UK’s biggest blunder?

Offshore oil and gas installations: an introduction.

Uk government makes an actual loss from North Sea oil. Wow.


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