By Tim Walsh
On the 50th anniversary of the issuing of the first licenses for the extraction of oil and gas from the UK continental shelf (UKCS), we asked oil executives what their main concerns were in an increasingly challenging period in the sector’s turbulent history.
The consensus was that the industry needs to learn to collaborate if it is to survive these challenges.
Issue 1: Operating expenditure is going up while production forecasts are going down
Production from assets fell by 38 per cent between 2010 and 2013, equating to a drop of around 500 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe) and a drop in tax receipts of approximately £6 billion.
In exploration, just 15 wells were drilled on the UKCS last year, compared to 44 in 2008, while operating expenditure rose to a record level of £8.9 billion, and is expected to increase further to about £9.6 billion this year.
But there are reasons for optimism: while approximately 42 billion boe have been produced from the UKCS to date, it is estimated that a further 24 billion boe could remain.
Issue 2: The contracting model is failing from the cost base perspective
Attendees at an executive briefing noted that the supply chain had received little mention in the Wood Review. Significant sums were being spent on ‘low value-high volume’ work, leading the executives to consider the question: is there a genuine appetite within the industry to look at a transitional approach to costs in terms of fixed price agreements?
One executive commented “We’re not talking about the 2009 solution of going in and saying rates have gone down by 10%. That’s not going to work. We have got to see cleverer business models. That may include more remote location working not just in Manchester … but going much further, to India or China for example, to try and get services from there.”
Issue 3: The industry is not planning for decommissioning
Oil executives in the North Sea recognise that the industry needs to plan more effectively now for end of life assets, or face potentially catastrophic consequences down the line.
“The industry is not planning for decommissioning, we are just hoping (an incident) won’t happen, then when something does we will cope with the crisis and everybody will jump into action. But nobody is willing to take that first step,” the head of one company said.
It has been suggested that decommissioning costs should be included in the design stage to offset their impact.
Issue 4: A new regulator will not change anything
While the Wood Review’s approach to regulation is welcomed, many executives are questioning what we can expect to be different this time around. “Why should we expect a new nirvana with the Regulator?” asked one operator, while others expressed doubt as to whether the Regulator would be able to push back against future treasury demands.
Issue 5: The industry is facing a knowledge shortage, not a skills shortage
While much has been made about the shortage of skilled people in the oil and gas industry, not enough is made of the importance of knowledge transfer, which requires greater collaboration within the industry. “Working on a brownfield site can give you the ability to learn the skills to work on a greenfield site, but you need to have gained that experience beforehand to make that change,” said one director.
All these issues require collaboration in an industry in which, as one operator said, “competition is bred into you”.
These concerns are just some of the key points raised at an executive briefing we held with executives from across the industry.
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