North Sea

Jeremy Beckman London Britannia Field development location. These days, UKCS field development schedules and fabrication contracts are announced way before the development gets government approval. This was the case with the central North Sea gas and condensate field Britannia, but joint operators Conoco and Chevron still decided to team up with UK Industry and Energy Minister Tim Eggar for a formal go-ahead in London.

Jeremy Beckman
London

Britannia gains formal approval

These days, UKCS field development schedules and fabrication contracts are announced way before the development gets government approval. This was the case with the central North Sea gas and condensate field Britannia, but joint operators Conoco and Chevron still decided to team up with UK Industry and Energy Minister Tim Eggar for a formal go-ahead in London.

Some new details did come to light. At a late stage, the project was deemed too costly to proceed with; then 300 million of cuts were identified through reducing the number of wells, refining pipeline sizes and modifying on and offshore process plant. This brings the price down to a more manageable 1.5 billion. Also, to prevent hydrate formation, the 15 km flowlines connecting the subsea manifold to the platform will incorporate a hot water jacket.

The development will be based round a single steel, drilling, production and accommodation platform with a subsea manifold facility 15km to the west. The 19,000-ton jacket will have 36 well slots, with Sedco Forex due to start pre-drilling of nine template and eight subsea wells this April. Seven companies will fabricate the 28,600-ton topsides under an alliance agreement.

Gas from the 2.6 tcf field is expected to flow from the fourth quarter of 1998 to the St Fergus terminal north of Aberdeen, but no decision has been made yet whether to build a new pipeline or use someone else's existing pipeline. However, the associated condensate and NGLs will be sent ashore through the Forties pipeline system.

Another major gas/condensate development has moved a step nearer with Elf UK's announcement of a further gas discovery on its Elgin prospect in the central North Sea. Well 22/30c-13 flowed at 27 mcf/d and 5,030 b/d of condensate with a 1 3/4 in. choke. Elf has been exploring a joint development of Elgin and its twin field Franklin with Shell's Puffin and Shearwater prospects and possibly the Texaco-operated Erskine as well.

Schooner set for late '96 launch

Also during the Britannia announcement, Tim Eggar confirmed that a further 90 new projects on the UKCS were coming forward for approval, although he didn't expect any more to be rubber-stamped before yearend. In the event one did make it, Shell/Esso's £260 million Schooner gas development 150 km miles from the north English coast in block 44/26.

An Amoco-led party abandoned this block following an unsuccessful drilling program in the 1960s, but Shell/Esso struck gas with their first well on the re-awarded acreage in 1987. Schooner, in 70 meters water depth, will be only the third Carboniferous field development on the UKCS, following Caister and Murdoch, which are in the same quadrant.

Shell/Esso have opted for a 12-slot, not normally manned platform with a four-legged steel jacket, with gas passing through a 16 in, 28 km pipeline initially to the Murdoch platform, then via the Caister Murdoch System to the Theddlethorpe terminal. Nine development wells will be drilled along with one subsea satellite, to access the section of the field that extends into block 43/30. October 1996 is the likely start-up date.

Year of highs for hydrocarbons

For the UKCS, 1994 was a "spectacularly successful year at a time of historically low real oil prices", claimed Tim Eggar. Production of offshore oil and gas in the sector had never been as high, he said, a statement almost in line with figures from the Royal Bank of Scotland. These showed that North Sea oil output in October exceeded 2.6 MM bbl daily - a seven-year high.

Production has since been swelled by first oil and gas from Total's £650 million Dunbar Field and its satellite Ellon, 120 km east of the Shetlands. At a later date, the Grant Field will join the equation as a subsea tieback to Dunbar.

Other high points of 1994 which Eggar touched on included an agreement in December by nine companies to fund construction of the UK/Continental Europe Interconnector gas line.

The original feasibility group were joined by Amerada Hess, UK utility National Power, Ruhrgas and, most surprisingly, Russia's Gazprom. The latter's involvement could either be seen as a premature gamble, or shrewd long-term planning: the UK may start to depend on Russian gas imports from 2010 onwards.

Activity heats up around Denmark

Yet another commercial discovery has been made in the UK sector, this time just one mile from the Denmark median line. Operator Amerada Hess has found oil four miles southeast of its Fife Field in block 39/2, and plans an appraisal well this month. The discovery will likely be produced as a subsea tie-back to Fife which is itself due onstream later this year at 40,000 b/d via an FPSO.

Amerada is one of the few explorers currently active in the Danish sector, which suffered a bad year in 1994, according to the Danish Energy Agency. Seismic shooting plummeted, and only two E&A wells were spudded.

However, the situation may gradually change, if reaction to the country's fourth licensing round is reliable. Environment and Energy Minister Svend Auken said he was "extremely satisfied with the interest shown by the oil and gas industry" - 17 companies have applied for licenses in the acreage offered in the Central Graben and adjacent areas in the west of the Danish sector.

Non-local applicants included BHP, Enterprise, Mobil, Phillips, Premier, Shell, Texaco, and Wintershall. A statement on the outcome of negotiations with applicants is due in April.

Ekofisk license extended to 2028

The approval process is also rolling along in Norway. The Industry and Energy Ministry has approved the revised plan for the Ekofisk redevelopment, which will involve installing two new steel platforms, a processing and transportation platform, and a 50-slot wellhead platform, all between 1996-98. And the Ekofisk production license has been extended until 2028.

Three new development projects were also sanctioned recently by parliament. One of these, the Lunde L02-L05 formation of the Snorre Field, is to be accessed through wells drilled from the Snorre TLP, with first oil likely this year.

Another Saga-operated project to receive sanction is the 175 MM bbl Vigdis Field, which will be developed as a subsea satellite of Snorre.

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