Ithaca brings in FPF1 for North Sea hub

Ithaca Energy has drawn up plans for a new oil and gas production hub in the UK central North Sea.

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Jeremy Beckman • London

Ithaca Energy has drawn up plans for a new oil and gas production hub in the UK central North Sea. The Greater Stella Area (GSA) project will develop up to four fields in blocks 29/10a & b and 30/6a, all tied back to the Petrofac-owned semisubmersible production platformFPF1.

The initial focus will be on the Stella and Harrier fields, with the addition of the Hurricane and Helios structures, depending on the outcome of appraisal drilling. Ithaca has lined up the Awilco semisubWilhunter for a well on Hurricane early in 2012, while Helios faces a "drill or drop" decision in 2013. Start-up is targeted for the second half of that year at an initial average rate of 30,000 boe/d, pending approval for the development plan due to be submitted to the UK government this month.

GSA has been on the drawing board for some time, but what drove this final solution forward was a series of deals that included Ithaca acquiring Stella/Harrier partner Challenger Minerals North Sea from parent company Transocean, and Petrofac providing theFPF, and earning a 20% interest in the project at first oil.

The floater, which is more than 30 years old, was known asAH-001, and previously operated for Hess on the Rob Roy/Ivanhoe fields, also in the central UK sector. Petrofac had been looking for a new "home" for the facility for some time. The company's Offshore Engineering & Operations division will perform modification and upgrades ahead of the new deployment, to bring capacity up to 38,000 b/d of oil and 2.4 MMcm/d (84.75 MMcf/d) of gas, and Petrofac will subsequently provide duty holder services under a life-of-field contract.

Ithaca says the development will prioritize oil and condensate production over gas during the early years to maximize value. GSA oil will be piped 31 km (19-mi) to the Grane Area Export Line which feeds through to the Forties system to Cruden Bay, north of Aberdeen. The gas will be exported through a 59-km (36-mi) pipeline connecting to a tee on the CATS trunkline to Teesside.

Norwegian contenders off the starting blocks

Two of the Norwegian sector's leading independents have won approvals for their first development projects.

Lundin Norway's Brynhild field (formerly Nymo) is in 80 m (262 ft) water depth in North Sea license PL 148, close to the median line with the UK. Development calls for three subsea wells tied back 38 km (23.6 mi) to Shell's Pierce FPSO on the UK side. Aker Solutions has the EPC contract for the subsea production system, which includes the trees, template-manifold structure, and control umbilicals. Technip will manufacture and install the reeled pipe-in-pipe production and plastic lined water injection flowlines. Start-up is slated for late 2013.

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Total's Atla subsea tieback to Heimdal is partner Det norske oljeselskap's first development project.

Det norske oljeselskap's project is Atla (ex-David) in southern Norwegian North Sea license 102C. The Total-operated gas field was discovered in October 2010 – this will be converted for use as a producer, with the gas exported to Total's Hemidal complex 20 km (12 mi) to the southwest. Costs are estimated at $227 million.

Among the other major new North Sea projects going forward, Britain's Department of Energy and Climate Change has approved Nexen Petroleum's $3.2-billion Golden Eagle area development in the UK central sector. Facilities will include a combined production, utilities, and quarters platform linked to a wellhead platform – Lamprell will build both the decks in Jebel Ali, UAE. Plans call for 16 platform-based wells and four subsea wells, with an initial production rate of up to 70,000 boe/d. Start-up is scheduled for late 2014.

DONG E&P has approval from the Danish Energy Agency (DEA) for its $1.67-billion Hejre oil and gas project in the northern part of the Danish central graben. Here the focus will be a five-well processing/wellhead platform with new pipelines connected to existing infrastructure, and first oil during 2015.

Danes, Norwegians launch chalk initiatives

Ten oil companies are working with the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) and the DEA to improve recovery from tight chalk fields offshore Norway and Denmark. Phase 7 of the Joint Chalk Research program, which started in 1982, will investigate:

  • Ways to maximize efficiency in application of water injection in chalk fields
  • Weakening/compaction of chalk rocks during water/CO2 injection
  • How to model the impact on the reservoir of CO2 injection for improved recovery.

Collectively, the 10 companies will provide sponsorship of up to $367 million/yr from 2012 for an initial period of three years.

In a separate initiative, Maersk Oil with Danish sector partners Shell and Chevron will provide further funds for a five-year research program on chalk reservoirs in the Danish North Sea, led by Copenhagen's Department of Geography and Geology (DGG). Here the goal is to clarify the original processes that dictated where chalk was laid down and how reservoir characteristics were formed, but with a focus on hard-to-detect inter-chalk variations indicative of overlooked hydrocarbon traps. Currently no geological models exist to predict these variations well, DGG claims.

Heavier vessels needed for platform removals

North Sea decommissioning could provide $75.6 billion of new business opportunities over the next three decades, according to analysts Deloitte and Douglas-Westwood. According to their latest North Sea Offshore Decommissioning Market Report, most of the activity and associated spend will occur between 2016 and 2031.

However, the projected workload will likely exceed existing heavy-lift vessel and onshore dismantling capacity, increasing the pressure for new specialized vessels and purpose-built yards. And this situation could be exacerbated by activity in the local offshore wind sector.

The report outlines two scenarios for developing offshore lift technologies. One involves using existing heavy-lift vessels performing decommissioning as an "offshore deconstruction" process. The other examines the impact of new super heavy lift vessels capable of lifting 15,000 tons or more.

Last month, engineering consultancy PDi started work in the UK on a study concerning decommissioning of pipeline bundles. Over 60 bundles have been installed for North Sea subsea developments, incorporating flow lines, gas-lift, water injection, and chemical injection lines into one carrier pipe, with an estimated combined length of 250 km (155 mi). However, according to funding provider ITF, no guidance is available for the removal process.

PDi officials said that although bundles may appear similar to trunklines – they have a large diameter and rest on the seabed – all are less than 7.5 km (4.6 mi) long.

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