NORWEGIAN major Statoil is set to push ahead with development of the 31-year-old Mariner discovery east of Shetland in what will be the UK’s biggest offshore oil project in more than a decade.
The £4.3 billion investment will create more than 700 jobs, including 200 onshore posts in Aberdeen. Production is set to begin in 2017 and is expected to run for about 30 years, reaching a peak of 55,000 barrels of oil per day.
The announcement was hailed as a major milestone by industry body Oil & Gas UK, which said the decision to pull the project off the shelf was possible following recent tax breaks from the UK government for marginal and difficult fields.
Statoil and its junior partners – JX Nippon Exploration and Alba Resources, a unit of Cairn Energy – have been discussing Mariner’s revival for several months. Mike Tholen, economics director at Oil & Gas UK, said the magnitude of the investment reflected the industry’s “crucial role in boosting Britain’s economic growth”.
He said: “The largest offshore development in the UK for a decade, Mariner requires pioneering technology and will bring hundreds of high-skilled, long-lasting jobs across the country, hundreds of millions of pounds in additional tax revenues as well as crucial security to our energy supplies.”
Discovered in 1981, Mariner was left dormant because of low flow rates and other technical challenges that would have made it unprofitable. However, new technologies, rising oil prices and a more favourable tax regime have revived its fortunes. Lars Christian Backer, executive vice-president for international development and production at Statoil, said Mariner was a “good strategic fit” for the company.
The announcement followed Thursday’s decision by the group to dust down another decades-old project, the Dagny field in Norway, which was first uncovered in 1974.
“We are the world’s largest offshore operator and have a portfolio of attractive projects in some of the most prolific basins in the world,” he said.
“The North Sea is a core area for Statoil, and we look forward to taking a leading role in further developing also the UK part of this basin.”
Statoil took over the Mariner licence as operator in 2007, and has a 65.1 per cent stake in the project. JX Nippon has a 28.9 per cent interest in the field, and Edinburgh-based Cairn has a 6 per cent stake.
Cairn acquired its interest earlier this year via the £414 million purchase of Nautical Petroleum, a deal aimed at boosting the Scottish explorer’s near-term production levels.
Nautical also gave Cairn interests in the Arctic, where Statoil holds a 30 per cent stake in one of Nautical’s Greenland exploration licences. JX Nippon took over its interest in Mariner in a deal with Italy’s Eni that was finalised earlier this week. The Japanese oil and gas firm paid an undisclosed sum for stakes in 17 producing fields, and has vowed to quadruple its production in the UK Continental Shelf by the end of the decade.
Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing said the Statoil announcement was “tremendous” news for the sector. Statoil will decide whether to go ahead with a similar heavy oil field development at Bressay, located in waters near Mariner, sometime next year.