The Southern North Sea oil and gas supply chain is renowned for its solutions. Traditional hydrocarbons work might be declining, but operators need suppliers’ expertise and problem-solving in a different way, to help build new integrated energy systems in the Southern North Sea (SNS) and grasp a role in the huge potential of the “wonderful story” unfolding.
Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) director of operations Scott Robertson says businesses needs to think differently about their business offer to play a part in future offshore energy production.
“Clients need to recognise the opportunity for their Southern North Sea infrastructure, and they need help cutting emissions,” Mr Robertson said, describing the issues operators face in the race to net zero.
“For example, we need a better idea of what the subsurface looks like and where is a good place for CO2 to be stored in Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS). Collaborating using modern seismic technology to get a better understanding of the SNS subsea is one area we need help with.
“We know there are a lot of depleted gas resources. An operator might have a great view of its own particular gas field and Co2 stores, but there is a lot beyond their individual reservoir, such as large saline acquifers.
“That’s where the supply chain can come in. It has lots of solutions. It is known for it.”
2021 is a year for creative thinking; for more than half a century’s expertise and technology to take a new focus and be used differently, and for solutions to support operators to navigate energy transition and shift their operations into emerging energy technologies.
Electrification of platforms, hydrogen and CCUS is seeing accelerated interest in the SNS, following the great strides made already in the Central North Sea (CNS).
“What we learn from that will be taken to the SNS. We will then see it accelerate in the SNS after the CNS.”
Supply chain collaboration is key to its pace and success.
“These companies have people, knowledge and equipment. Companies would rather have equipment working, so if there is a collaborative solution and opportunities for the operators and supply chain to work together, they should explore it.”
Mr Robertson has been “astounded by the pace of change in the industry” since he started his role in January 2020, witnessing a marked acceleration in the second half of the year.
Change has to be quick “to integrate our energy with future energy – and targets can only be achieved by the whole industry working together effectively, and finding solutions to carbon capture and storage, hydrogen production and de-carbonised offshore platform power generations” (e.g electrification from shore or renewables).
The Prime Minister’s 10-point plan called for two CCUS sites by the mid-2020s, with two further sites by 2030.
“I am optimistic. We have awarded the licence for Liverpool Bay and for Humberside. The OGA’s vision is for there to be two CCS pilots operational and we’re hoping we have three ‘horses in the race’ and two to get over the line by 2025,” Mr Robertson said.
“We know what we have to do. It has driven regulators to clarify our role in energy transition and how we work together to make it happen. The operators need to know they have clear boundaries and goals.
“If you step back and look at the big picture, there is a wonderful story here. The industry will have a role to play in the short and medium-term. It is a transition opportunity.
This “opportunity” demands the sector maintains a secure and resilient fossil fuel supply through energy transition, alongside playing its part to develop new technologies.
Operators pledged they wanted electrification and understood the threat to their social licence to operate, so impetus needed to pick up, he said.
“How do we get wind farms and oil and gas infrastructure connected? What are the barriers?
“What are the myths around wind and if they can provide continuous power? Oil and gas platforms don’t respond well to having broken power supply. There are lots of myths to be addressed about wind.”
Solutions lie in a structured integrated grid with a mix of oil and gas, offshore wind, CCUS and hydrogen.
Mr Robertson said he was already encouraged by the willingness of SNS operators to collaborate, and advised the SNS supply chain to look to the work in the CNS, where electrification is moving forward, for inspiration and the “can do” attitude needed.
“They are coming together, sharing and talking. Groups are collaborating and we are seeing operators with the infrastructure and the appetite to electrify.”
Seeds of this appetite are beginning to be shown in the SNS, he said, and with creative thinking by the supply chain “all will be well.”
“In the CNS we see a structure. Wind farms are being built further offshore in deeper waters near oil and gas infrastructure. We have got oil and gas companies looking for solutions and the wind sector looking to grow, and in the interim we can stimulate growth in wind by powering offshore hubs that will go on shore.”
The OGA has held two workshops for the CNS, both attended by about 60 representatives. The first brought together operators with power and wind providers.
“We had a group of operators that had a need and a group of wind providers with a solution to that need,” said Mr Robertson.
In October 2020, a second workshop brought the investment community to the mix.
There was huge confidence in the Southern North Sea, now experiencing a “wonderful rejuvenation” from its previous profile as a declining basin in terms of hydrocarbons, to become a hotbed of CCUS, hydrogen and other energy technologies, he said.
“I have a wonderfully motivated SNS team.
“There is huge potential from the UKCS – whether through CCUS, wind or hydrogen – and all its incumbent infrastructure developed by the sector which served it so well, delivering the UK huge value and driving the economy. It will continue to give value and economic success for another 50-100 years.”