Fewer wells but better results from UK offshore exploration

Dec. 2, 2021
Britain’s Oil and Gas Authority has published its second Wells Insight report.

Offshore staff

LONDON – Britain’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has published its second Wells Insight report.

Among the main findings, the number of exploration and appraisal wellbores spudded in UK waters fell from 29 in 2019 to nine last year.

At the same time, success rates have improved, with UK operators discovering more than 500 MMboe over the past three years. 

Last year 73 new development wells were completed across the sector, on a par with 2017-18. Total development drilling spend was more than £2.1 billion ($2.8 billion), largely due to complex developments (i.e. HP/HT fields). 

As of the end of 2020, operators had plans for only 51 wells in 2021, but a recovery is now expected in drilling activity in both the central and UK North Sea over the next few years.

To date more than 8,000 wellbores have been drilled on the UK continental shelf, with 2,625 wells still active, of which 1,736 are producing.

Last year there were also 717 ‘shut-in’ wells where production could potentially be restored.  

In 2020 there was reduced well intervention activity. While this can be explained in part by the pandemic, there is room for operators to step up interventions to improve well production performance, the OGA said. 

Total investments in intervention were £269 million ($358.6 million) last year, while the average unit cost of interventions was lower. Preventative maintenance activities delivered the greatest production benefits at the lowest cost per unit of production.