Offshore Europe

Drilling crews in the Norwegian Barents Sea face disruption this fall, not just from environmental protestors, but also from the government.

Barents drilling measures questioned

Drilling crews in the Norwegian Barents Sea face disruption this fall, not just from environmental protestors, but also from the government. Norway's State Pollution Agency, SFT, has blocked Norsk-Agip's wildcat 7/22/7-1, scheduled for next month, citing inadequate oil spill response procedures.

The location is roughly 60 km north of the border with Russia and Finland. According to SFT, a spill could spread to the coastline within 36 hours. Existing technology cannot be trusted in this remote area, it adds, particularly towards year-end, when harsh weather and limited daylight compound the problem.

The well was one of four to be drilled in the sea over a nine-month period by the semisubmersible Transocean Arctic. The rig did make a start in July on Norsk Hydro's 72/6/1-1 exploratory well, despite attempts by Norwegian pressure groups to block its passage. Hydro itself has been censured for poor contingency safety planning in this region, which lies 300 km from land. In response, Hydro sent another helicopter to its Hamerfest base. This is the first series of wells in the Norwegian Barents for six years - the other operator in the current program is Statoil.

Farther south, by contrast, rig operating conditions may ease following the government's stated desire to help harmonize regulations across the North Sea. When switching between sectors, mobile rigs are often forced to undergo expensive modifications, particularly on the Norwegian shelf. The Petroleum Ministry has also pledged to improve exchange of drilling data with the other North Sea nations.

Semisubmersible favored for Kristin

Partners in the complex Halten Bank South gas-condensate development now view the fall of 2005 as the earliest date for first production. A final concept is still a ways off, but the favored base case is a semisubmersible dedicated to the Kristin Field, with other discoveries in the area put on hold for the time being. Assuming that project economics and gas sales agreements can be ratified, a development plan could be issued early next year, leading to first contract awards in winter 2001/02. - The 16,000-ton gravity base structure for Veba's new Hanze platform in the Dutch sector was recently shipped from Ulsan to Rotterdam onboard the Mighty Servant 3. The 63-meter-long, 56-meter-wide, 83.5-meter-high structure was skidded over the side of the vessel on three skid beams.

Current thinking is for the gas to be partly processed onboard the floater before being piped to the Karsto plant north of Stavanger, where gas reception and treatment capabilities have recently been doubled to handle 64 MMcm/d from the

In the North Sea, BP Norge is pressing ahead with a NKr 3-4 billion water injection scheme for Valhall. A production-development-operations (PDO) permit has been issued, aimed at lifting recovery from the field by 130-200 million bbl of oil, starting in 2003, with production peaking at 60,000 b/d by 2006. Smedvig is expected to drill all 15 development wells. At some point, BP may also commission three new platforms for the field, as part of a redevelopment program necessitated by subsidence and outmoded equipment on the existing installations. Recently, Norway's government extended the Valhall production license from 2011 to 2028, in addition to waiving royalty payments.

Unwanted platform heading for Stord

Phillips contracted Aker Maritime to remove the Maureen production platform from its location in the UK North Sea next June. The structure, which has been in service since 1983, has produced over 220 million bbl of oil, but flow rates tailed off steeply by the mid-1990s. In recent years, Phillips applied infill drilling to keep the operation live while it marketed the platform for re-use. So far, however, there have been no takers.

Aker's scope includes lifting the platform, its concrete base, and articulated loading column, then towing it to a mooring location near its yard in Stord, Norway. The firm also will clean out the platform's three large steel storage tanks and undertake inspection duties, while Phillips continues to solicit bids. If none come forward, Aker will then dismantle and recycle the platform at Stord. The same yard was used to dismember Esso's Odin platform in 1996.

Breakup and recycling of Statoil's 2/4-S riser platform topsides will also be handled in Norway, following a contract newly awarded to Lyngdal Recycling. The platform became redundant following Phillips' recent Ekofisk redevelopment. Heerema and Umoe are booked to remove the topsides next summer. Removal of the jacket is being delayed to coincide with a concerted program of jacket disposals on Ekofisk to be coordinated by Phillips.

Shell UK's Brent Spar also ended up in a Norwegian fjord. However, 12 tons of radioactive waste from the Spar are to make the reverse journey. AEA Technology will re-condition the sludge-like waste, then dispose of it at a site in northwest England.

Operators reassess dormant discoveries

Britain's Department of Trade and Industry claims that 18 dormant UKCS discoveries will be activated following pressure by the government. A further 15 have been offered for sale. This February, the DTI announced that it would review blocks awarded under the UK's first 10 licensing rounds on which there had been no drilling activity for at least six years (fallow blocks), as well as discoveries which had been neglected for a similar period.

Operators were then pressed to bring forward their drilling plans or relinquish their licenses. Of the 199 blocks identified, three have since been drilled, 19 now have firm drilling plans, and a further 77 will undergo new geophysical work, leading either to an action plan or relinquishment within 12 months.

Among the fallower fields are the Nuggets gas cluster near the Alwyn complex in the Northern North Sea. Operator TotalFinaElf has taken numerous measures to boost production through Alwyn. Reactivation of the Nuggets project was the latest (helped by the resurgence in oil prices). Development will be in phases, the first involving installation of a new manifold with two subsea wells tied back to the North Alwyn platform. The wells will be controlled via a 20-km umbilical to the manifold from the Dunbar platform. First gas is scheduled for mid-October 2001.

In the Southern North Sea, UK independent Tullow Oil may soon debut as an operator, having agreed to buy numerous assets held formerly by Arco from new owner BP, for $300 million.

In the same area, Conoco is considering harnessing seven accumulations with potential combined reserves of 530 bcf under a joint devel- opment called CMS III. The outcome of a current well on the K prospect could lead to the project going ahead early next year.

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