‘Each oil find is unique, but Clair is a one-off’

The Clair Ridge installation
The Clair Ridge installation

Locked away in BP’s archive is a handwritten note.

“Little hope of this rock ever producing oil.”

Dating back more than 40 years, the index card was the official assessment of what later became known as BP’s landmark Clair discovery in the North Sea.

Bill Senior was a 22-year-old junior geologist in the job just a year when he made the find that would affect generations to come.

“It was 1977, less than year after I joined, and this was my first well,” Mr Senior said. “My first well ended up being the 206/81-A discovery, or better known as Clair.

“It was also the first well we drilled west of Shetland.”

Mr Senior had started his work day on the Sedco 703 drilling rig.

“Back then it was my job to decide on the well and then tell the driller to drill. Drillers were impatient people so it took a bit of courage,” he said.

The decision led to the biggest find of not only his career, but also served as a significant chapter in BP’s North Sea story.

“It was quite a shallow well. It didn’t take very long to drill down into the reservoir and when we did it wouldn’t stop flowing,” he said.

“This was the early days of the North Sea. They really were the boom times of the basin and people were finding oil all over the place,” he said.

“It was pretty exciting. That’s what you signed-up for as an explorationist – to find oil. I just didn’t expect to find it so quickly.”

“We soon realised that this was something that had very big potential.”

Despite crews trying to keep up with the find for more than three weeks, it was nearly 30 years before the Clair discovery transformed into a commercial producer.

Challenging reservoir characteristics and the technological limits of the time meant it was 2001 before BP and partners approved a development plan for the first phase.

Phase one was brought on stream in 2005, targeting approximately 300 million barrels of recoverable reserves. It was the first fixed offshore facility to be installed in the west of Shetland area.

And now more than 40 years after discovery, BP has achieved first production from its second phase, Clair Ridge.

“The transformation in technology has enabled Clair to persist and keep producing,” Mr Senior said.

“Explorationists like to say they found this or that and I guess I get to say I found Clair. But really there was team of us who did that.

“Each oil find is unique, but Clair, Clair is a one-off.”