Elusive oil within reach

Twin technological advance makes it possible to exploit once-uneconomic fields

Two advances in offshore production technology could make it possible to retrieve oil from small fields in the North Sea and elsewhere that were previously considered uneconomic.

One was a record for a horizontal or extended reach well that BP set at its Wytch Farm development in Dorset last week. The lateral drilling technique is being used to tap into an offshore reservoir from dry land. The 1.6km-deep well extended 10.1km horizontally, beating the previous record by more than 2km, nearly twice the target of 5km that BP set at the start of the programme five years ago.

Paul Tooms, BP’s project manager said: ‘Certainly the ability to step out to 10km must open up all sorts of satellite prospects all over the world.’

He said the team was planning to extend the capability further, with an initial plan to drill up to another 2km into the reservoir.

Meanwhile on 13 January, Shell produced its first oil from the Gannet field, one of two satellite fields being developed with subsea systems tied back to the Gannet A platform, 14km away.

The key to the success of the project was the development of an electrical submersible pump that could deliver the oil over such a long distance. Gannet E is the world’s longest subsea tie-back of such a pump.

Heinz Rothermund, managing director of Shell Exploration and Production, said the project was a significant advance in ways of developing satellite fields.