Shell spend hike raises North Sea sights but 'no new boom'

Darius Snieckus
OGJ Online

LONDON�The UK North Sea's slow-rolling recovery from the lowest activity levels in its history was today given a further shot in the arm by news from Shell Exploration & Production PLC that it plans to inject some $1.2 billion in to as many as half a dozen new developments in the province over the coming year.

On top of an increased capital outlay�up 50% on this year's "original plan" and a 20% hike on its spend for 1999�the oil major added it would be expanding investment in its exploration drilling and seismic programs by as much as $300 million over the next 5 years.

Shell's Outer Moray Firth Goldeneye development and the five-accumulation cluster in the East Shetland basin known as Penguins, which together call for a lion's share $900 million of new investment to reach production, top the list of potential new fields tipped to profit from the company's capex boost.

The other developments slated for new funds are the central North Sea fields dubbed Mandarin and Goosander, as well as two further prospects "which are not being identified at this time for reasons of commercial confidentiality."

Shell Expro Managing Director Malcolm Brinded suggested that the overall increased spend "reflect[ed] a number of projects that still have some tricky hurdles to cross, projects that have been around for a long time and hard to commercialize."

"We still have to get the right technical solutions, and the right commercial agreements in place, and the [government] approvals in the next 12 months or so," he acknowledged, noting that the "challenges of this type of project really do highlight the challenge that the North Sea now has."

Though Brinded declined to detail the exact breakdown of his company's announced spend, he said near-field developments, high pressure, high temperature (HPHT) prospects and southern North Sea gas developments were among its targetted areas.

Illustrating Shell's "confidence" in the part gas will play in its future production plans, over $200 million in capex, he said, would be dedicated to the mature southern North Sea gas basin over the next year.

Fields of the future

Though Goldeneye and Penguins are classed by Shell as "relatively large," Brinded said further "evaluation and appraisal and agreement as to the scale and scope of any development" would be needed before putting hard numbers to estimated reserves for the two�though Penguins, discovered 25 years ago�is said to hold in the range of 50-100 million boe.

"We are certainly looking for a development that will de-risk [Penguins]," he added, "and will enable a bit of incrementalism in terms of understanding reservoir performance. It is in an area that has proved extremely difficult to unlock."

Brinded said he was "optimistic" that Shell's Goldeneye field partners and the UK Department of Trade & Industry would have a development plan before them�likely to be a jacket-based full wellstream tieback�in the "next period."

That Shell expects to double its spend on seismic surveys, along with enhanced investment in exploration drilling, was, according to Brinded, " the best indicator of [his company's] confidence" in the future of the UK North Sea, though he emphasized the figure of $300 million "wasn't a firm promise because it depended on results".

"Advances in technology and greater well engineering efficiency are leading to improved international competitiveness for exploration funding," he said. "And they are creating the opportunity to realize further value from the mature North Sea basin. We have to compete globally for investment, and the increase in expenditure is certainly a mark of confidence in the North Sea."

Shell's decision to unlock its capex coffers to the UK North Sea, Brinded suggested, was closely aligned to Royal Dutch/ Shell's "strategy of selective investment globally." "Maintaining capital discipline has been a keynote for Shell: these increases have been won by the UK in the face of global competition and reflect a lot of very hard work to improve UK sector competitiveness."

At 50%, the percentage boost to Shell Expro's exploration spend, Brinded stressed, was a "bigger increase than Shell will be making globally," and showed the UK had "moved itself forward as one of the prime areas for investment" at the oil company.

Despite Shell's higher E&D spend building on BP's recent announcement that it would be investing some $900 million on its North Sea developments over the next year, and a similar amount in 2001, Brinded cautioned against over-optimism. "This is not a 'new boom'," he said, "but it does show confidence in sustaining the UK sector and that's a tribute to the improvements made by the industry in recent years."

Shearwater first flow

The announcement today of Shell's upcoming spending spree coincided with the inauguration of its "landmark" Shearwater field, one of three pioneering HPHT developments�along with Texaco Erskine and TotalFinaElf 's giant Elgin-Franklin development�in the Central Graben Area of the central North Sea.

Shearwater, scheduled to start up closely in time with its official opening, is thought to hold some 24 billion cu m of gas and 159 million bbl of condensate. From first flow Shell anticipates the development will ramp up to peak production of around 425 million cu ft of gas per day and some 90,000 bbl of condensate.

Via the Shell-operated 460 km SEAL gas trunkline, Brinded said Shearwater "would open up the whole central North Sea area in terms of connection to the south-east of England for gas, both for Shearwater as well as many other central North Sea field in years to come." He added that the field also unlocked the region's HPHT play, which he believes to "almost certainly the most important remaining play in the UK North Sea."

The development of Shearwater, like its HPHT neighbors, has entailed handling extreme pressures and temperatures, giving it especial significance to the offshore industry as the field demanded the invention of technology which, said Brinded, "frankly we did not know how to develop 5 years ago."

Shearwater, as "one of the last large UK North Sea platforms," would mark the transition in the UK sector "from one era to the next."

"We don't have plans for future Shearwaters, but there is plenty of oil and gas left in the North Sea�and plenty of activity ongoing in an industry," Brinded added. To "keep [the UK North Sea] fit in middle age" our industry will have to "make the most of our existing fields, target additional drilling, tie back subsea satellite developments in to existing infrastructure, and continue to grow the gas market in the southern North Sea."

Related Articles

Senate Banking Committee’s crude export debate breaks along party lines

07/28/2015 Congressional committee debate over the 40-year ban on exporting US-produced crude oil continued to break largely along party lines as the US Senat...

Financing set for gas line in northern Mexico

07/28/2015 Financing is set for construction of a 289-mile pipeline that will carry natural gas produced in Texas to power plants in Mexico, reports Milbank, ...

Husky assesses options for West White Rose extension project

07/28/2015 The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board said it has provided “conditional approval” of a development plan by Husky Energy Inc...

Canada’s NEB approves Orca LNG export license

07/28/2015 Canada’s National Energy Board has approved an application by Orca LNG Ltd., Cypress, Tex., for a 25-year natural gas export license (OGJ Online, J...

UK awards 41 more licenses in offshore round


The UK government has awarded 41 licenses for exploration and production in the second tranche of the 28th Offshore Licensing Round.

CBM producer Walter Energy files for Chapter 11

07/28/2015 Walter Energy Inc., Birmingham, Ala., and its US subsidiaries filed for restructuring under Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the US Northern District Court...

MARKET WATCH: Oil futures maintain downward momentum

07/28/2015 Light, sweet crude oil futures prices fell July 27 to settle at less than $48/bbl on the New York market while Brent prices on the London market pl...

Excelerate gets FERC okay for Aguirre offshore GasPort project

07/27/2015 Excelerate Energy LP, The Woodlands, Tex., has been granted authorization by the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in cooperation with the P...

Encana books impairment charge, maintains 2015 budget

07/27/2015 Encana Corp., Calgary, reported a $1.3 billion impairment charge for the second quarter, which executives said reflected a decline in oil and natur...
White Papers

Definitive Guide to Cybersecurity for the Oil & Gas Industry

In the Oil and Gas industry, there is no single adversary and no single threat to the information tech...

UAS Integration for Infrastructure: More than Just Flying

Oil and gas companies recognize the benefits that the use of drones or unmanned aerial systems (UAS) c...

Solutions to Financial Distress Resulting from a Weak Oil and Gas Price Environment

The oil and gas industry is in the midst of a prolonged worldwide downturn in commodity prices. While ...
Sponsored by

2015 Global Engineering Information Management Solutions Competitive Strategy Innovation and Leadership Award

The Frost & Sullivan Best Practices Awards recognise companies in a variety of regional and global...
Sponsored by

Three Tips to Improve Safety in the Oil Field

Working oil fields will always be tough work with inherent risks. There’s no getting around that. Ther...
Sponsored by

Pipeline Integrity: Best Practices to Prevent, Detect, and Mitigate Commodity Releases

Commodity releases can have catastrophic consequences, so ensuring pipeline integrity is crucial for p...
Sponsored by

AVEVA’s Digital Asset Approach - Defining a new era of collaboration in capital projects and asset operations

There is constant, intensive change in the capital projects and asset life cycle management. New chall...
Sponsored by

Transforming the Oil and Gas Industry with EPPM

With budgets in the billions, timelines spanning years, and life cycles extending over decades, oil an...
Sponsored by
Available Webcasts

Better Data, Better Analytics, Better Decisions

When Tue, Oct 27, 2015

The Oil & Gas industry has large amounts of data stored in multiple systems which are purpose built for certain tasks. However, good decisions require insights based upon the data in all of these systems. These systems in turn do not talk to each other. So the process of analyzing data, gaining insights, and making decisions is a slow one and often a flawed one. Good decisions require accurate analytics and accurate analytics require superior/sustainable data quality and governance. This webinar focuses on:

  • The importance of data quality and governance
  • How technological advances are making data quality and governance sustainable in order to get the accurate analytics to make solid decisions.

Please join us for this webcast sponsored by Seven Lakes Technologies and Noah Consulting.


Operating a Sustainable Oil & Gas Supply Chain in North America

When Tue, Oct 20, 2015

Short lead times and unpredictable conditions in the Oil & Gas industry can create costly challenges in supply chains. By implementing a LEAN culture of continuous improvement you can eliminate waste, increase productivity and gain end-to-end visibility leading to a sustainable and well-oiled supply chain.

Please join us for this webcast sponsored by Ryder System, Inc.


On Demand

Leveraging technology to improve safety & reliability

Tue, Sep 22, 2015

Attend this informative webinar to learn more about how to leverage technology to meet the new OSHA standards and protect your employees from the hazards of arc flash explosions.


The Resilient Oilfield in the Internet of Things World

Tue, Sep 22, 2015

As we hear about the hype surrounding the Internet of Things, the oil and gas industry is questioning what is different than what is already being done. What is new?  Using sensors and connecting devices is nothing new to our mode of business and in many ways the industry exemplifies many principles of an industrial internet of things. How does the Internet of Things impact the oil and gas industry?

Prolific instrumentation and automation digitized the industry and has changed the approach to business models calling for a systems led approach.  Resilient Systems have the ability to adapt to changing circumstances while maintaining their central purpose.  A resilient system, such as Maximo, allows an asset intensive organization to leverage connected devices by merging real-time asset information with other critical asset information and using that information to create a more agile organization.  

Join this webcast, sponsored by IBM, to learn how about Internet of Things capabilities and resilient systems are impacting the landscape of the oil and gas industry.


Emerson Micro Motion Videos

Careers at TOTAL

Careers at TOTAL - Videos

More than 600 job openings are now online, watch videos and learn more!


Click Here to Watch

Other Oil & Gas Industry Jobs

Search More Job Listings >>
Stay Connected