Norway's oil and gas giant Statoil (NYSE:EQNR) has been working to expand the recovery rate from its various fields, which has slowed as of late at least partly because of field maturation. Historically, Statoil's production base has been the rich oil and gas deposits of the Norwegian Continental Shelf and the North Sea. While the company has been expanding internationally in recent years, the majority of Statoil's production still comes from these two areas, accounting for 62.9% of Statoil's total equity production in the first quarter of 2014.
Unfortunately for Statoil, many of these fields are old, and thus mature or maturing, which is one reason it has been so vigorously expanding its international operations in order to maintain its production. However, there is another option Statoil is also beginning to use more frequently, and that is to use various newly developed techniques to improve the recovery rate from its existing fields.
What is field maturation?
An oil field has a limited lifespan. This seems natural, after all, there is only so much oil in a given field. During the early stages of its life, the field's production will increase as the oil company develops the field and ramps up production. However, at some point, production from the field will begin to decline. A field that has passed its point of maximum production and has begun to decline is considered to be a mature field.
Statoil's aging fields still have plenty of oil
This is the situation Statoil finds itself in, with many of its Norwegian fields entering the mature stage of their lifespans. However, this does not mean the amount of oil in these fields is running out. In fact, according to some estimates released by the Department of Energy, even after performing all of the ordinary stages of extraction, up to 75% of the total amount of oil in the well may still be in the ground. Some other estimates put the amount of oil remaining in the ground at a lower 60%. Regardless, there is still a significant amount of oil remaining in the field after the traditional extraction techniques are performed. Statoil simply needs to figure out how to extract it from the ground.
New technologies could be the key to improvements
Fortunately, there are some new technologies available allowing Statoil to do just that. Statoil is currently utilizing some of these technologies to increase the amount of resources it extracts from the Oseberg Ost field.
Oseberg Ost is an offshore oil field located in the Norwegian part of the North Sea, which was first discovered in 1981 and has been consistently producing oil since 1999. The oil field is estimated to contain approximately 172.35 million barrels of crude oil, 14 billion cubic feet of natural gas, and 100,000 metric tons of natural gas liquids. Thus, Oseberg Ost is a considerably large oil field.
Unfortunately, Statoil has only been able to extract a relatively small amount of this oil and gas. The field's current recovery rate is 20%, meaning this is the most that Statoil has been able to extract using standard production methods. However, on July 2, Statoil announced it would be using new production methods to increase this figure by 10%-20%. Thus, the use of these new production methods may have doubled the amount of oil and gas the company can ultimately produce, thus extending the longevity of its existing assets.
Statoil will not be the only company to benefit from the increased longevity of the Oseburg Ost field; other companies have a stake in the field, too. Statoil itself owns 49.30% of the field, Petoro (the Norwegian state-owned oil company) owns 33.60%, Total (NYSE:TOT) owns 14.70%, and ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) owns 2.40%. All of these companies would benefit from the extended longevity of this field.
By extending the lifespan of Oseburg Ost and its other maturing fields, Statoil is able to maintain its production without going through the difficulty or incurring the expense of finding new fields. It also improves the company's growth prospects because it can use its newly discovered fields to drive growth instead of just using them to replace lost production from maturing fields.