(Norway) - A further expansion in Statoil's exploration activity on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) is planned for the next few years, but access to new acreage will be a critical success factor for this strategy.
Statoil expects to drill some 20 exploration wells on the NCS next year. This includes wells close to existing infrastructure and in more unexplored areas. The group will be operator for about half the wells.
There will also be five to 10 exploration extensions, where production wells are deepened to test new exploration targets.
"Work programmes and exploration budgets won't be completed until the end of the year," says Tim Dodson, senior vice president for NCS exploration. "But we'll unquestionably see a further increase in activity over coming years compared with the 2005 level."
Statoil's exploration budget for 2005 has been doubled in relation to the past two to three years, and plans called for 18-20 wells to be drilled this year. Updated figures show that the actual number of wells will be roughly 14, with three to four likely to be still underway at year end. Four exploration extensions have also been completed.
The reduction in wells compared with the forecast partly reflects delays with certain exploration rigs.
The incidents involving the anchoring system onOcean Vanguard during an operation for Eni meant that the job took seven-and-a-half-months longer than planned, and three other wells had to be postponed until 2006.
In addition, Shell's Onyx discovery in the Norwegian Sea this spring kept >I>Transocean Leader on that location for five months longer than expected, and one or two wells will be postponed until next year.
"Statoil's active strategy for securing rigs to drill exploration wells means that it will be able to expand such work in future," said Dodson. "Together with our partners Shell, Eni and Hydro, we have secured rig capacity for exploration throughout the NCS for the next three years."
In its role as operator and partner, Statoil has been involved in 12 completed wells so far this year, with hydrocarbons proven in eight of them.
Dodson said, "For the first time in quite some while we have good grounds for increasing drilling activity, but we need constant access to new acreage if we are to maintain a high level of activity over time."