LONDON — UK offshore operators completed 12 exploration and appraisal (E&A) wells and 48 development wells, according to the North Sea Transition Authority’s (NSTA) latest Wells Insight Report. The NSTA has been pushing for 60 development wells per year to help stem the decline in UK offshore production. Over the past three years, exploration has added 334 MMboe of potential new hydrocarbon resources in UK waters. The NSTA wants these reserves appraised and developed quickly to safeguard domestic oil and gas production during the energy transition. Last year’s 48 development wells—14 fewer than in 2021—comprised 40 producers and eight water injectors. However, the collective expenditure of £1.23 billion ($1.51 billion), not significantly down on the £1.33 billion ($1.64 billion) the previous year, suggests that UK offshore wellbore costs have risen. Twenty-four of the completed wells were in the central UK North Sea, 17 in the northern North Sea, four west of Shetland and three in the southern gas basin. Well intervention activity was also lower last year, with 511 interventions compared with 522 in 2021. Reduced well activity could affect production, the NSTA warned, as certain fields approach their cessation of production (CoP) tipping point. A situation is emerging in which delayed investment leads to declining production, pushing CoP closer. On the plus side, total numbers of shut-in wells fell from 785 the previous year to 743, as targeted intervention restored production from idle wells, with operators reacting in part to higher commodity prices. However, only 88 well optimization jobs were completed with safeguarding operations down from 235 to 208. The 12 E&A wells spudded in 2022 were mainly in the central and northern North Sea sectors, with total expenditure of £275 million ($338 million) compared with £179 million ($220.2 million) in 2021, when 10 E&A wells were drilled. For the third year running, there was no E&A activity in 2002 west of Shetland, in the southern North Sea or the east Irish Sea. The NSTA believes operators are only achieving about 60% of their projected drilling activity, and wants to see that figure hiked, to give assurance to the supply chain greater over volumes of work coming through. At the same time, operators are suggesting that activity may pick up substantially, with potentially 77 UK E&A wells to drilled between 2023-25 - 12 this year, 17 on 2024, and the remainder in 2025. Thirty-four wells could be drilled in the central North Sea, 15 in the southern North Sea/Irish Sea, and 13 in the northern North Sea/West of Shetland. Andy Brooks, NSTA director of New Ventures, said, “We are committed to helping ensure UK energy security, and well interventions, which increase production from existing facilities, can play a key role in that. Production from existing facilities can also have a lower carbon footprint.
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