NCS exploration continues to rise

By Michael Rogers

‘Askepott’, one of Equinor’s two Cat J super-rigs, at Oseberg Vestflanken (photo: Equinor/Erlend Hatteberg/CHC Helikopter Service)
‘Askepott’, one of Equinor’s two Cat J super-rigs, at Oseberg Vestflanken (photo: Equinor/Erlend Hatteberg/CHC Helikopter Service)

Exploration “now” leads to production “later”, so with 2019 at the half way mark, it’s a good time to take stock of how the year’s taking shape from the exploration standpoint.

As oil prices began to slowly rise once again, last year saw a significant increase in oil and gas exploration on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS). After only 36 exploration wells drilled per year in 2016 and 2017, 2018 saw 53 wells spudded – 28 wildcats and 25 appraisals – with 12 discoveries.

Historically, in just over 50 years, around 1,100 wildcat wells have been drilled on the Norwegian shelf. Since 1966, 700 wells have been drilled in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. In 1980, we saw the start of drilling in the Norwegian Sea, and since about 250 wildcat wells have been drilled. Exploration in the Barents Sea also began in 1980, but only about 120 wells have been spudded thus far.

Looking at the most recent full year, the go-to source for NCS activity, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD), reports that the 12 discoveries of 2018 account for an estimated 82 million standard cubic metres (Sm3) of recoverable oil equivalents. While this total is higher than during the downturn in offshore activities, it doesn’t hit the mark to maintain production at current levels after 2025.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate is responsible for managing and making available petroleum data from the Norwegian Continental Shelf – so an exploration of their website is well worth the visit.

Upward trend
This year’s exploration activity continues the 2018 exploration trend, with 33 exploration wells completed as of 1 July. Of the 33 wells, 23 were wildcats and 10 were exploration wells to appraise and delineate fields. The year looks on track to rival 2013, the peek exploration year when 59 wells were drilled.

Aker BP leads the as the operator with 10 wildcat/appraisal wells drilled, followed closely by Equinor, which has drilled 9 wildcat wells.

The remainder of the wells were drilled by Vår Energi, Spirit Energy Norway, MOL Norge, Total E&P Norge, Wellesley Petroleum, Wintershall Norge, Faroe Petroleum Norge and Lundin Norway.

With the ongoing trend to make use of mature facilities on the NCS, this year’s 7 discoveries thus far, although been small or minor, are much more likely to be tapped.

Half way there
So at the half-way mark, the year’s exploration activity is promising. Moreover, the current growth in NCS development activities is in part due to 2018’s increased exploration – so that trend looks promising as well.

The NPD tells us that resources on NCS have been “barely halfway” produced, at 47%.

With the NPD’s projection that 25% of NCS resources are yet to be discovered, the possibility to come across a few more “elephants” will remain a draw.