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Editorial comment

There’s been much excitement around the North Sea over the last few days as Total and CNOOC made what has been described as the “the largest gas discovery in the UK since Culzean in 2008.”1

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The Glengorm prospect, located in the Central Graben basin, was drilled to a final depth of just over 5000 m and encountered 37 m of gas and condensate pay in a high quality Upper Jurassic reservoir. Initial analysis suggests that the find could hold as much as 250 million boe in recoverable resources – right at the top end of expectations.2

The discovery didn’t come easily, however. Kevin Swann, a senior analyst in Wood Mackenzie’s North Sea upstream team said, “This was third time lucky for CNOOC at Glengorm. Technical problems saw it try and fail to drill the prospect twice in 2017, so persistence has paid off. This is a good start to what could prove to be a pivotal year for UK exploration with several high-impact wells in the plan.”3

According to analysts at Westwood Global Energy Group, the Glengorm find “will reignite interest in the high temperature, high pressure plays in the North Sea and heralds a mini renaissance in UK exploration.”4 Ross Dornan, Market Intelligence Manager for the trade association, Oil & Gas UK, said: “The location of the discovery, in the central North Sea, also provides a valuable opportunity to make use of the UKCS’ extensive infrastructure network. Coming so soon after the Glendronach discovery in September, Glengorm is a major milestone towards adding another generation of productive life to the UK North Sea and realising the ambition of Vision 2035.”5

This positive news will come as a pleasant change for many in the region; the UK North Sea has found itself in a difficult place over the last few years as low oil prices, mature fields and ageing infrastructure have all weighed heavily on operators. Even before the downturn, UK North Sea oil production had been on the decline for years. Peaking at 2.6 million bpd in 1999, output subsequently fell to lows of 800 000 bpd in 2014. More recently there has been a period of respite as new fields (BP’s Quad 204 and Enquest’s Kraken, for example) came online and new technologies and processes, such as infill drilling, were deployed.6

With the downward trend expected to continue through 2019, there’s now hope that the Glengorm discovery signals the beginning of a turnaround or, at the very least, a further pause in the decline. Swann added, “There is a lot of hype around frontier areas like West of Shetland, where Total discovered the Glendronach field last year. But Glengorm is in the Central North Sea and this find shows there is still life in some of the more mature UK waters.”7 Indeed, companies operating in the UK North Sea decided to press ahead with 13 new developments this year, a total larger than the previous three years combined.

Despite the challenges, the UK North Sea still offers sizable opportunities to those with the right expertise. There’s life in the old dog yet.

References

1. ‘Glengorm ‘largest UK gas find since 2008’’ – https://www.woodmac.com/press-releases/glengorm/
2. ‘UK: Total Announces a New Discovery in the North Sea’ – https://www.total.com/en/media/news/press-releases/uk-total-announces-new-discovery-north-sea
3. Ibid. at 1.
4. ‘High impact Glengorm discovery heralds a big year for exploration in NW Europe’ – https://www.westwoodenergy.com/news/westwood-insight/high-impact-glengorm-discovery-heralds-a-big-year-for-exploration-in-nw-europe/
5. ‘Oil & Gas UK welcomes Glengorm discovery as a major find’ – https://oilandgasuk.co.uk/oil-gas-uk-welcomes-glengorm-discovery-as-a-major-find/
6. ‘UK North Sea oil output to resume decline after brief respite’ – https://www.reuters.com/article/us-northsea-oil/uk-north-sea-oil-output-to-resume-decline-after-brief-respite-idUSKBN1H213Y
7. Gas find in North Sea hailed as ‘biggest in a decade’ – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-47041270


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