What does the future hold for exploration development offshore Norway?

A BRIEF HISTORY

Norway’s oil and gas fields were developed over 50 years ago in the North Sea and throughout that period has expanded into the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea. Significant milestones and the development of oil and gas activities have majorly contributed to Norway’s welfare state as we know it today.

In 1963 the Norwegian Government proclaimed sovereignty over the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS). This led to agreements being concluded two years later on the delimitation of the continental shelf on the basis of the median line principle. Norway’s first licensing round was announced on 13 April 1965, and 22 production licences were awarded, covering 78 geographically delimited areas (blocks).The late 1960s through to the 1970s saw numerous production licences being awarded and the industry growing in region.

The most promising areas explored first resulted in world-class discoveries and production. Fields included Ekofisk, Statfjord, Oseberg, Gullfaks and Troll, which still play a part in production today.

Picture: timeline of major Norweigan oilfield discoveries
(Source: https://www.norskpetroleum.no/en/framework/norways-petroleum-history/)

Exploration and production continued steadily over a period of five decades with several new discoveries being made. There are large remaining resources, and major new projects which are continuously developing. This blog explores what the future holds for exploration development offshore Norway.

FAST FORWARD TO 2018

Although some of the first discovered fields are still in production, they are on the decline. With activity on the continental shelf still vital for Norway’s economy, several new, smaller fields have been developed.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) reported at the end of H1 2018, that 20 development projects are currently under way on the NCS, and 13 exploration wells have already yielded six discoveries. Having said that, production was lower in the first six months of 2018 compared with the same period of the previous year.

Total petroleum production from the NCS at the end of H2 2018 was estimated at 114.9 million standard cubic metres (Sm3) of oil equivalents (o.e). Of this, around 43.2 million Sm3 o.e. are oil and around 10.2 million Sm3 o.e. are NGL and condensate.

It was also reported that approximately 61.5 million Sm3 o.e. of gas has been sold, which is slightly higher than in the comparable period last year and is in line with the NPD’s expectations. However, the total volume is 4.4 million Sm3 o.e., lower than in the same period of 2017.

EXPLORATION PLANS

It is known within the industry, and documented on the Norwegian Petroleum website, that there are large remaining resources yet to be produced, which has led to further development plans. Stand-alone development solutions are planned for the largest discoveries, but several smaller ones mentioned previously may also collaborate on building new infrastructure. However, to increase efficiency, some smaller discoveries can be tied into existing infrastructure.

The stabilisation of oil prices and improved knowledge and data relating to the offshore acreage led to the NPD forecasting that 40-50 exploration wells would be drilled in 2018. It transpired that thirty wells are expected to be spudded in the North Sea, with between eight and ten in each of the Norwegian and Barents Seas.

In addition to the ongoing development projects, the Norwegian authorities have received two new plans for development and operation, both in the North Sea: Wintershall’s application for Nova, a tieback to the Gjøa platform, and Equinor’s application for Troll Phase III which involves producing the gas cap in Troll Vest. In addition, during the first half of 2018, authorities approved applications to develop the Skogul, Yme, Ærfugl, Fenja, and Johan Castberg fields, Valhall Flank West, and the Snorre expansion project.

No new fields have actually started production so far this year, however, Equinor’s Aasta Hansteen in the Norwegian Sea is scheduled to commence production in Autumn 2018.

Picture: Equinor's Aasta Hansteen platform
(Source: https://www.equinor.com)

A statement from the NPD summarised; “We are seeing a record-breaking number of projects in the implementation phase, with more projects currently being planned,” said Ingrid Solvberg, NPD director of development and operations. “We find it particularly gratifying that several of the projects aim to increase recovery from mature fields, including Snorre and AkerBP’s Valhall Flank West project in the North Sea”, she said.

IS MORE ACTIVITY NEEDED?

It is clear that operators are drilling more exploration wells on the NCS than in recent years, many of which have led to successful projects. However, the Journal of Petroleum Technology, amongst other industry thought leaders, have speculated that even more activity will be needed into the next decade to prevent a drop-off in production.

There are a number of reasons why production is lower than last year. Contributing factors include technical problems on certain fields and a colder than usual winter which resulted in production downtime.

Maintaining production at a stable high level requires a significant effort from all parts of the industry. Of course, the NPD wants to ensure that the industry remains active and that every opportunity is explored to create the greatest possible value from the oil and gas deposits on the Norwegian shelf. It is therefore important that operators maintain a high level of activity to increase recovery through producing fields.

There seems an appetite from operators for more activity and it was recently reported that Equinor have taken the lead in a bid to transform the continental shelf. Equinor is presenting plans for transforming the NCS for continued high value creation and low emissions for the coming decades. The major operator is on track to maintain profitable production from the NCS at current level towards 2030. It is predicted that after 2030 the NCS will enter a more mature phase. It is therefore necessary to introduce new measures now to mitigate the future challenges of declining production from the larger fields, ageing structures and the need for reduced CO2 emissions.

Embracing the notion that more activity is needed, Equinor’s plans for the NCS include:

  • Drilling up to 3,000 wells over the coming decades
  • Extending the life of over 20 assets
  • Drilling 20-30 exploration wells annually and actively exploring for gas
  • Increasing the pace of digitalisation and the use of new technology
  • Strengthening and renewing the competence in their own workforce within traditional and new disciplines and conducting targeted recruitment to ensure competence of the next generation

Could this be the boost that the NCS has been waiting for? Let us know in the comments.

HOW PROBE CAN SERVICE THE NCS

Probe has been supplying oilfield equipment to North Sea projects for over three decades, with a particular focus on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf (UKCS). However, in recent years, the company has seen an increase in requirements from clients operating on the NCS.

We are also proud to be part of the Acteon group of companies, a group committed to working together to define, shape and lead subsea services for the benefit of its clients. We maintain close links with other regional Acteon companies to deliver products and services that benefit from collective experience and expertise.

Through the development of new service offerings and the acquisition of further certifications, Probe can now supply a wide range of equipment to aid exploration projects in Norway and it is a market sector which Probe are looking to expand even further. David Brennan, Managing Director, Probe, commented; “We have already built links with Norwegian clients through our Acteon Group networks and are now placing an increased business development focus in the region. We are keen to demonstrate Probe’s new capabilities, which will soon include a well intervention service, to new and existing clients alike.”

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