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Unlocking Small Pool Oil

While it may seem obvious, the oil industry is heavily in favour of production areas with substantial amounts of oil, as opposed to smaller pools of oil that might be situated in more accessible locations.

Many of these large sites can endure multiple decades of production due to their sheer volume, however, with an ever-shrinking number of large reserves available, producers are gradually getting “leaner” in their approach and considering other options. “Marginal fields” or “small pool oil” are reserves containing less than 50m barrels of recoverable oil, and are rapidly growing in feasibility, profitability and popularity.

It has been calculated that on the UK Continental Shelf there are 3.4 billion barrels worth of small pool oil. Now, Wood Mackenzie, an industry research and consultancy group, in collaboration with Aberdeen-based Oil & Gas Technology Centre believe these areas could produce 400 million additional barrels of oil and create an extra £3 billion of value with approached using the latest technological developments available.

The issue with marginal fields, however, is that compared to the value that can be extracted, it is costly to set up the working area, develop the field, pump up the oil and then transport it. As a result, the effort and resources that go into the area don’t typically reflect their required investment.

The new initiative developed by ‘Tie-back of the Future’ aims to make it easier for producers to conduct work on these small pools. The centre says their target is to half the cost of the development as well as bring down the required time by 50%. Fuelled by 25 cooperating operators, supply chain firms and technology developers, the core of the initiative is to transform how marginal field development is approached; instead of treating them as separate fields and acquiring significant costs, a circular economy style of approach is adopted. This would consist of designing most of the site’s equipment to be ready for disassembly, relocation and reuse at the next site. Tie-back of the future estimates this approach would economically unlock an additional 400m barrels of oil.

Still bruised from recent dramatic fluctuations in oil prices, the O&G industry continues to exhibit an intention to start prioritising leanness and efficiency, open to technology and innovation. This gradual shift in O&G landscape, Dashboard believes, is both validated and reflected in this exciting approach: targeting smaller wells with modular and flexible approaches focused on ‘disassembly not decommissioning’.