Analysis: Rig Activities Heat Up in the North Sea

With the first offshore field discovered in the 1960s and first production achieved in 1971, the North Sea has been a major petroleum producing region for decades. While production at some fields has waned, new discoveries are made and boundaries pushed to keep the North Sea and the waters surrounding it a viable upstream option.

Currently, there are 70 offshore rigs working in the North Sea and surrounding waters of the Norwegian Sea, Barents Sea and Atlantic Margin. These include 31 jackups, 37 semisubmersibles and 2 drillships. The majority of these rigs are working in the waters offshore Norway and the United Kingdom, with 28 and 26 rigs, respectively. The Netherlands has nine rigs, Demark has six, and Ireland has one rig working in its waters.

PIE GRAPH: Types of Rigs Working in the North Sea

There are a number of major projects -- both exploratory and developmental -- that are currently ongoing in the North Sea and the surrounding waters.

West Navigator Drilling at Ormen Lange

The rig making the most in the region is the drillship West Navigator, managed by Seadrill. Signed to a three-year contract with Shell, the drillship is earning $560,000 a day through the close of 2012.

West Navigator, drillship
The West Navigator Drillship

Braving harsh weather and freezing water temperatures in the Norwegian Sea, the West Navigator drillship has been drilling wells at the Ormen Lange gas field since early 2006.

Discovered in 1997, the Ormen Lange gas field is being developed in multiple phases -- and completely subsea. The first phase of development included the installation of two subsea templates, pipelines and flowlines. Development drilling on the field was performed over two years by the West Navigator, and production commenced in October 2007.

Ormen Lange
Ormen Lange

The second phase of development at Ormen Lange includes adding another two subsea templates, as well as drilling more development wells. Scheduled for 24 development wells in total, the West Navigator continues drilling at this massive, harsh-environment field.

West Epsilon Drilling at Sleipner West

The jackup earning the highest dayrate in the North Sea is the West Epsilon at a rate of $306,000 a day. Performing development drilling on the Sleipner West field, the West Epsilon jackup is contracted to StatoilHydro through the end of 2010.

West Epsilon
West Epsilon

Comprised of two main fields -- Sleipner East and West -- as well as six satellite fields -- Gungne, Loke, Alpha North, Sigyn, Volve and Volve South -- the Sleipner project is the second-largest gas complex in the North Sea. A massive gas and condensate development, Sleipner was developed via multiple phases and produces some 300,000 barrels of condensate a day and 1 Bcf/d (36 MMcm/d).

While the main four phases of development have been completed on the project, exploration and development drilling continue at Sleipner, and additional satellite fields will continue to be tied-back to the existing Sleipner infrastructure.

Specially adapted to work in tandem with the Sleipner B platform on Sleipner West, the West Epsilon jackup performed six years of development drilling on the Sleipner West field from 1995 through 2001. In 2008, StatoilHydro again tapped the West Epsilon to conduct another drilling campaign at Sleipner West. In an effort to increase remaining reserves on the field, five to six more wells are being drilled on the field through 2010.

Newbuild Noble Scott Marks En Route to Chiswick

Built at the Dalian Shipyard in China, the Noble Scott Marks is an independent leg cantilever jackup capable of drilling in waters measuring up to 400 feet deep and to a total depth of 30,000 feet. With construction completed in June 2009, the Noble Scott Marks is currently en route to its first drilling operations at the Chiswick field in the UK southern North Sea.

First contracted by Venture Production for a two-year commitment, the Noble Scott Marks is currently making $45,000 a day while in transit, with the dayrate increasing to $210,000 by the end of this month.

Discovered in 1984, the Chiswick gas field was approved for development in 2006 and came on-stream in 2007 through the first production well, Alpha. The second well, Gamma, began producing in 2008, concluding the first phase of development at Chiswick. The second phase of development will involve drilling up to three more wells on the field. The Noble Scott Marks will soon commence drilling the first well in the second phase of development on Chiswick.

Deepsea Atlantic Begins Work for StatoilHydro

Constructed at the Daewoo Shipyard in South Korea, Odfjell's Deepsea Atlantic semisub was completed in early 2009. The rig then traveled from the Far East to the Norwegian North Sea for inspection. Approved by the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway for drilling operation in the northern North Sea in mid-July, the Deepsea Atlantic commenced its first contract on Aug. 1, 2009, with StatoilHydro.

Deepsea Atlantic
Deepsea Atlantic

Contracted by Statoil in March 2007 before the merger, the Deepsea Atlantic has a firm four-year commitment with a dayrate of $503,000 with two, two-year options that would extend the contract through 2017. Rated for waters measuring up to 10,000 feet deep and drilling depths up to 37,500 feet deep, the 2007 contract was specifically for work on the Gullfaks field in the northern Norwegian North Sea.

Comprised of the major Gullfaks oil and gas field, the project serves as a production hub for the area, as well as hosts four satellite fields - Gullfaks South, Rimfaks, Skinfaks and Gullveig -- which tie-back to the three Gullfaks production platforms. While first production at Gullfaks was achieved more than 20 years ago, development on the project is ongoing in an effort to boost production from the area.

Located in waters measuring from 430 to 720 feet deep, the Gullfaks South oil, gas and condensate field was developed via two phases, the first coming on-stream in 1998 and the second in 2001. Scheduled and approved for drilling operations on the Gullfaks South satellite, the Deepsea Atlantic will first begin drilling the 34/10-52 S appraisal well on Production License 050.

Boasting major oil and gas projects, innovative production solutions and more fields to be discovered, the North Sea region continues to prove a lasting petroleum hotbed. With hundreds of fields and facilities already established in the region, more are discovered and developed every day. Find out more about offshore projects in the North Sea by visiting SubseaIQ, or follow the developments, contracts and initiatives of the rigs working in these waters through RigLogix.

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