Offshore Europe

License awards from Norway's 15th Round have, as expected, favored the native oil companies. However, six multinationals have also picked up operatorships, including BP which had talked of redirecting its investment to other arenas unless new Norwegian acreage was opened to outsiders. The others were Amoco, Esso, Mobil, Phillips, and Shell.

Outsiders benefit as Norway opens up more blocks

License awards from Norway's 15th Round have, as expected, favored the native oil companies. However, six multinationals have also picked up operatorships, including BP which had talked of redirecting its investment to other arenas unless new Norwegian acreage was opened to outsiders. The others were Amoco, Esso, Mobil, Phillips, and Shell.

As promised by the Industry and Energy Ministry, state direct participation in the licenses has been restrained, as have the number of partners (generally three to four). The biggest stake went to Mobil, which secured 75% of blocks 33/5 & 6 and 34/4, close to Statfjord. Less triumphant were Elf, Conoco, and Total, which were only granted participation in certain licenses.Neste, a member of Norway's gas supply committee (GFU), received nothing at all.

Fourteen of the 18 licenses relate to the deep waters of mid-Norway's Voering and Moere Basins. One of the most prospective areas covers three blocks known as Nykhogda and Vemadomen: these have been split up, with BP and Statoil in charge of different sections. There is no requirement to gather new seismic over Vemadomen, but Statoil will commission a 3D survey over block 6710/10, close to the environmentally sensitive LofotenIslands.

The various drilling schedules from these awards are not included in the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate's review of operators' plans. Forty exploration wells (total cost over NKr5 billion) are planned this year, 15 managed by Statoil. These include three in the Norwegian Sea and one in the North Cape Basin in the southern Barents Sea.

Further figures from NPD reveal that half the 21 wells completed off Norway last year found hydrocarbons, with reserve estimates varying in total from 535-1,132 million boe. Half the amount came from Saga's 6406/21-1 find, south of the Smoerbukk Field.

Seven-field ETAP under way

BP and Shell finally gained government consent for the 1.6 billion multi-field ETAP development in the Central North Sea. At one point, 11 fields had been linked to the project, including Ranger's Pierce, but this has been whittled down to seven for the time being: Machar, Marnock, Monan, and Mungo, operated by BP, and Egret, Heron, and Skua - also called the Heron cluster - where Shell has the lead role.

Marnock will be the location for the central two-platform processing facility, tying in production from Machar, Monan, and the Heron cluster through subsea manifolds. A normally unmanned platform will be stationed on Mungo.

Shell's fields, all HP/HT reservoirs, will be the first developed by the company in the Triassic Skaggerak formation, 15,000 ft below the seabed. Water produced from the reservoir has a high saline content, which could lead to scale formation in the wells and flowlines.

As a counter-measure, Shell will inject scale inhibitors into the wells to prevent salt residue forming. Special fiber optic equipment for downhole data gathering is also currently under test. The electronic cabling normally employed downhole would not withstand the high temperatures.

Combined reserves from ETAP are put currently at 400 million bbl of oil, 1.1 tcf of gas and 35 million bbl of NGL. Gas will be exported through the CATS pipeline system and oil through Forties - both of which themselves have been in the news.

The CATS processing facilities at the natural gas terminal in Seal Sands are being expanded to cope with the 1.6 bcf/d committed through the 255-mile pipeline from various fields. Forties, meanwhile, could be available for more third-party throughput, following a deal between BP and Conoco in which the latter will supply chemicals expertise to help boost throughput capacity in the line.

Harding finally beats the weather

The same oil majors are making more immediate contributions to the UK's hydrocarbon inventory. After weather delays, BP's Harding Field production jack-up was finally installed in its Block 9/23b location late in January, and should be producing oil next month.

Shell's subsea Pelican Field, 100 miles north-east of Lerwick, is already onstream as a satellite to the Cormorant A production platform. The latter had to be closed down for two months while the pipeline link was completed. It also underwent refurbishment, bringing the total project cost to 360 million.

Peak production through Pelican should reach 36,000 b/d by mid-year. This is a 40% upgrade on the figure targeted at the time of the original development announcement 19 months ago. Four of the wells are horizontal completions.

Amoco has announced its first operated subsea venture in the UK, the 57 million Arkwright oil development in Block 22/23a. This is a fast-track project, due onstream late this year which will produce 12,000 b/d through a pipeline link to Amoco's Arbroath platform, seven miles away.

More platforms come ashore

No respite for Greenpeace these days. Following the attempted removals of the Brent Spar and French nuclear weapon testers, four more decommissioning programs have been announced all at once in the North Sea. However, three at least are highly respectful of public pressures.

  • Take Elf Norge's North East Frigg, for instance - Norway's first field abandonment. Instead of dumping the platform and its steel column at sea, the various parts will be brought back to the Norwegian mainland for re-use.

    A yacht club near Stavanger wants the steel column as a harbor breakwater, while a fish-farm plant has bagged the concrete foundation as a floating jetty. The field's control station has been secured by a drilling training school and the wellhead structure will be recycled at a melting furnace. Only the pipeline spoolpiece and control cables are unwanted. Kvaerner Stolt Alliance support vessels Seaway Osprey amd Seaway Surveyor, and heavy lift vessel Stanislav Yudin, will manage the removal.

  • The Yudin will likely take care also of Conoco's redundant Viking A gas platforms in the southern North Sea. Four of these structures will be brought north to Swan Hunter's yard on Tyneside, with 99% of the steel and other materials, weighing 8,600-tons, due to be recycled. The plan has yet to gain government approval, but Conoco has been assuring fisheries and nature organizations that drill cutting leftovers will be minimal.

  • Shell'sLeman BK [49146 bytes] gas compression platform removal is part of an ongoing demanning exercise in its Southern Gas Basin operations. This 6,000-ton structure, currently idle in 33 meters of water, wil be brought ashore this year in four stages, with 95% of the hardware set to be recycled. Finally, MSR's white elephant Emerald Field in the UK Northern North Sea is also being decommissioned. But this mainly involves removal of wellheads, flexible risers, flowlines, and umbilicals. The production facility, a converted semisub, is already being offered for extended well tests or floating production on other North Sea fields.

  • More subsea removals are in prospect in Norway, such as Tommeliten. However, planning for the really big, awkward installations such as NW Hutton, or even Brent Spar, seems no nearer resolution.

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