Rumours of a massive oil find to the west of Shetland are growing after Prime Minister David Cameron made a secret visit to the islands just under two weeks ago.
On July 22nd Mr Cameron turned up in Shetland unannounced. At the airport the Prime Minister was accompanied by the Secretary of State for Scotland Alistair Carmichael.
The secret visit, the first by a serving UK Prime Minister for 34 years, angered national media who were unable to despatch journalists to Shetland in time. Commenting on the visit, Scottish Secretary Carmichael told a local newspaper that the visit was, “the closest to a secret I’ve known in Shetland”.
However, suspicions were aroused when, within days of the visit, BP announced that the start-up of the Clair Ridge twin-bridge oilfield had been delayed by one year. However the delay was said to be due to the amount of work being carried out by the South Korean fabricator.
The Clair field is located 75 km West of Shetland – Clair Ridge is the second phase of the Clair Field development. BP has invested £4.5 billion in the Clair Ridge Project and expects to extract 640 million barrels of recoverable oil, and see up to 120 thousand barrels per day at peak.
Estimates put the total amount of oil at 7 billion barrels equivalent.
One week before Mr Cameron’s visit, industry specialists Synectics announced it had designed and delivered an end-to-end surveillance solution for Clair Ridge. The new technolocy is expected to result in more than 40 million additional barrels being cost-effectively recovered over the lifetime of the field.
Oil reserves known to exist around the Shetland waters have never been extracted due to the difficulties in getting to the reserves. However advances in technology coupled with high oil prices have now made the reserves economic to extract.
The Clair Ridge project will include the world’s first offshore full field deployment of LoSal enhanced oil recovery technology to modify the salinity of water injected into the reservoir and increase the recovery of oil.
This weekend rumours spread that workers on a rig in the Clair field had been sent home on full pay and told not to return until late September, coincidentally after the independence referendum.
An unnamed worker believed to be from the rig in question is said to have revealed that the amount of recoverable oil exceeds initial estimates and that the Clair could in fact be one of the biggest in the world. There are also claims that the quality of the oil discovered is much better than usual for the north sea.
The story was broken on Friday by online site Yes International. According to the outlet ‘contractors working for BP were stood down after obtaining the results of the latest test drilling statistics.’
It added: ‘It was said that the test results [for Clair] “far exceeded expectations”.
‘We have had other information that contractors have in fact been sent home on full pay just after receiving these results and that they were advised that they would not be recalled until after the referendum.’
Yes International revealed that Downing Street had refused to answer any questions but that BP had confirmed “We intend to invest billions in the area in the coming years”.
The rig believed to be involved is the Paul B Loyd Jr which was recently transported to the Clair Ridge sector. According to the offshore industry tracker Rigzone, the status of the rig is currently ‘drilling’.
Industry magazine Upstream said of Clair Ridge: ‘positive signals are emerging from an ongoing appraisal drilling campaign.’
Speaking at a press briefing days ago, BP chief executive Bob Dudley said: “We remain very enthusiastic about Clair Ridge – appraisal wells are looking good. It is helping us to define the structure out there.
“[Clair Ridge] will be a project once we get it on in the next few years that has the potential to produce until 2050.”
If the rumours of a massive find are true, then the Clair will become the second field to the west of Shetland to exceed expectations.
In June this year it emerged that the Lancaster field had also produced results that were greater than initial estimates.
Hurricane Energy, the company behind the find, said production tests using a pump achieved a flow rate of 9,800 barrels of oil per day, well above expectations.
“I am delighted to report the successful completion of our testing operations which have achieved hydrocarbon flow rates in the upper range of our pre-drill estimates,” said chief executive Robert Trice in a statement.
The Lancaster field is believed to hold a fifth of the North Sea’s total untapped oil and gas resource.
Newsnet Scoland have asked questions of the Scotland Office and BP. Any significant information received will be reported.
[Newsnet comment: The issue of North Sea Oil has been at the centre of the independence debate for decades. In 2005 a secret report emerged that revealed successive Westminster Government’s had withheld the true value of North Sea oil from the Scottish people.
In 1974 the UK Government commissioned a report into the potential of North Sea Oil and how it might influence support for Scottish independence. The report made clear that an independent Scotland would be far richer than if it remained within the Union.
The report’s conclusions were so dangerous that it was designated secret and hidden for thirty years before a Freedom of Information request forced the UK Government to reveal its contents.
Newsnet Scotland copied the entire report, together with an introductory letter written in 1975 by its author Gavin McCrone, and published it – it can be read here.
Publication of the McCrone report by Newsnet Scotland followed an admission by former Labour Chancellor Denis Healey that the Labour Government of the 1970s deliberately hid the true value of Scottish oil in order to thwart support for the SNP.
Newsnet Scotland published a short video – narrated by actor David Hayman – which summarised the report’s conclusions. It is reproduced below.