Monday, July 23, 2007

North Sea Oil - Keeping it going

North Sea oil was discovered in the early 1960s with the first well coming on line in 1971. Still, it wasn't until prices went high enough and the technology was sufficiently developed that the fields were intensively exploited.

And now the fields governed by both Great Britain and Norway are falling into decline.

Dr. Roger D. Blanchard of the Department of Chemistry at Northern Kentucky University has recently published a paper showing the path of decline. These charts show the the Norwegian decline (table 1) and the UK decline (table 2).

These are both pretty classic shapes and are really not all that different than the charts showing decline for the NL offshore sector.

The difference between the local sector and the North Sea is that the North Sea is fairly well-exploited and they are heading into a phase of metaphorically scraping the bottom of the barrel. There are no real big fields left in that region and it's already been very well explored.

Over here the chart merely shows the fields already developed. In fact, there is much to be explored and developed off our coasts.

Naturally The Economist (one of the finest news analytical magazines in the English language) has a story on how the North Sea is working to maximise it's barrel scraping efficiencies.


Every last drop
Jul 12th 2007
From The Economist print edition
How to prolong the North Sea's life

THERE is no shortage of oil and gas beneath the North Sea. Total production so far has been around 34 billion barrels, and roughly 20 billion are thought to remain. Indeed, production is forecast to rise slightly this year, to 3.1m barrels a day from 2.9m in 2006, thanks largely to the discovery of the Buzzard field, which came on stream in January.

But big finds are the exception and the rise in output will be only a small blip in a downward trend. Buzzard, which contains 500m barrels, was the largest discovery for ten years. Much of the remaining oil and gas in the North Sea is stored in small or geologically tricky deposits that are expensive and difficult to develop profitably.

Technology is one way to keep the hydrocarbons flowing. BP's Rhum field, for example—with temperatures of 150°C and pressures up to 12,700 pounds per square inch—has been known about for years, but drilling technology has only recently advanced to the point where production is practical. Improved seismic surveys can give a better idea of what is present below the seabed. High-tech imaging persuaded Total, a French firm, to develop the Jura field (another large find of 170m barrels), which is due to start production in 2008.

Another option is to bring in specialist firms. Big oil companies are often uninterested in small fields, preferring to pursue larger and more profitable developments elsewhere. In 2003 the government created new, cheaper licences to try to attract firms that specialise in wringing as much as possible from small or partially depleted fields. Half of the 150 licences granted last year fell into this category.

The industry is also eyeing the few unexplored frontiers in the North Sea. The seas west of the Shetland Islands are thought to hold billions of barrels of hydrocarbons, mostly natural gas. But the lack of infrastructure in such a remote area would make it difficult to bring production to shore. And although oil prices are high, gas prices have slumped following the opening earlier in the year of a big import pipeline from Norway.

Despite these difficulties the government wants Britain still to be pumping 3m barrels of oil and gas a day by 2010. But its actions belie its words. As chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown raised taxes on the industry in recent years. Oil firms now pay a 50% corporation tax on new developments, compared with the 30% rate charged on other companies. The tax squeeze on the North Sea oil industry may end up accelerating its decline.

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