New subsea technology could generate £3bn from the North Sea

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Wood Mackenzie and the Oil & Gas Technology Centre report that developing new subsea technology and approaches to field developments could help unlock 400mn additional barrels of oil and gas, and generate £3bn of additional value.

There are 3.4bn barrels of oil and gas potential discovered in marginal fields, or ‘small pools’,* on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS), of which, at the current oil price, some 1.5bn barrels are considered potentially economic. The Technology Centre’s ‘Tie-back of the Future’ initiative, which aims to both halve the cost and halve the time to develop small pools, would make an additional 400mn barrels economic.

The initiative brings together 25 operators, supply chain firms and technology developers to transform the approach to developing marginal fields. Creating a circular economy, whereby subsea equipment is designed for disassembly and reuse, is at the heart of the initiative.

To date, the Technology Centre has invested £250,000 in engineering activity to develop the initiative, five technology projects are underway, 13 technology proposals are in the pipeline and six integrated studies have been completed. Industry support from operating and supply chain companies is required to make the Tie-back of the Future a reality.

The UKCS has around 10% of the world’s small pools. With 27bn barrels in small pools globally, there is huge potential to take solutions developed in the UKCS to other basins with marginal fields, driving international growth and export opportunities.

Chris Pearson, Small Pools Solution Centre Manager for the Oil & Gas Technology Centre, says: ‘Small pools represent a big prize for the UK economy but they each have their own challenges. The Tie-back of the Future concept is making significant strides to making more of these fields economically viable. Some of the ideas and early-stage technologies out there are really interesting. We are seeing developments in mechanical hot taps, mechanically connected pipelines, multi-use pipelines, the integration of renewable energy systems and unmanned facilities. These solutions could transform the development of small pools and extend the economic life of the North Sea.’

Mhairidh Evans, Principal Analyst for Wood Mackenzie, adds: ‘At current exploration rates, it would take 14 years and 500 wells to find the same volumes that have already been discovered in small pools. As a mature basin, these barrels can no longer be ignored. As well as providing much-needed new investment, unlocking small pools is key to extending the life of existing infrastructure. The UK industry, with the Technology Centre’s backing, is at the forefront of these new technologies. Approaches taken here will be much-watched and learned from around the globe.’

*Small pools are classified as unsanctioned discoveries containing less than 50mn boe (P50 technically recoverable)

EC-OG’s Subsea Power Hub – an example of the technology being developed to unlock small pools
Photo: EC-OG

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