The North Sea oil and gas industry needs to work out how to tap marginal fields before decommissioning gets into full swing, two industry chiefs warned.
There are about 350 unsanctioned marginal fields containing more than 3billion barrels of oil on the UKCS, of which 60% are assigned to an operator.
The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) is collating information on the remaining 40% and will promote them in the 30th licensing round.
But even the discoveries which do have an operator are not being developed at present.
Despite this seeming lack of interest, Gordon Drummond of the National Subsea Research Initiative is adamant that industry has no option but to develop them.
Mr Drummond said: “If we can’t make this happen, it’s an admission that we can only major in inspection, repair and maintenance (IRM) and decommissioning. There will be no new green fields.
“We’ve got to get this to work. We will always have IRM and decommissioning, but that’s not what Aberdeen is about – it’s about projects.”
Part of the problem is that the assets are split between too many owners.
About 200 of the pools are owned by 50 companies and, in some cases, there are operators who have just one field.
“It means no one has any skin in the game,” Mr Drummond said ahead of Subsea Expo 2017, which is devoting two sessions to marginal fields. “There’s little incentive to develop them, which is why the regulator needs to get involved.”
Another reason for inertia is commodity prices.
Carlo Procaccini, head of technology at OGA, said it would not have made sense to develop some of those discoveries even 10 years ago.
Due to the downturn, developing them makes even less sense now.
The drop in drilling and field operating costs has offset that problem slightly, without nullifying completely.
But there are ways of making the discoveries more viable.
Operators could develop clusters of discoveries at a time, share infrastructure to bring down development costs and join forces to carry out projects.
Companies all have different priorities, however. Some may want to decommission, while others might want to develop a new field.
“They might needs some cajoling. We need to bring companies to the same table to discuss area development plans, and in some cases changes of licence ownership might help the process,” Mr Procaccini said.
Tie-backs to existing platforms, reprocessing seismic data and ramping up exploration of adjacent prospects would also help.
Mr Procaccini said: “By doing that, something that was unattractive can become marginally attractive.
“But we need another push to make them commercially attractive.
“The last stretch is about smarter technology. We are still short in that area and we are working on it.”
A number of avenues are being explored for low-cost standalone developments, including production buoys, “light” efficient FPSOs and pipelines made from cheaper composites. Subsea technologies reduce the cost of tie-backs.
A range of solutions will be needed as more discoveries become stranded due to decommissioning.
The need for different “fixes” creates opportunities for technology developers, but they need to get their ideas out of the workshop and into the field fast.
Mr Drummond said: “We need to get this oil and gas home. The importance of that cannot be understated, so my message would be ‘get on with it boys’.”