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New approach reaps rewardsWintershall is looking to unlock discoveries by persevering in previously targeted areas - and it is a strategy that has paid dividends for the German player in the past

WINTERSHALL has taken a leaf out of the exploration copybook of Swedish counterpart Lundin Petroleum to unlock discoveries in previously explored areas off Norway. The German player has had success in making unlikely finds in places where others have given up, which exploration manager Guy Oakes attributes to "applying new ways of thinking" to mature plays.

This strategy, coupled with a strict auditing approach to the selection of new prospects to minimize exploration risk, has paid off with significant North Sea finds such as Skarfjell and Asha in recent years, after acquiring Revus Energy in 2008. Most of Wintershall's portfolio of 50 licences is in mature areas, and Oakes believes "the next big thing" is just as likely to be found there, as in the frontier Barents Sea, where drilling success has been mixed alter the landmark Johan Castberg discovery in 2011.

“Our main focus is on mature plays, as one is more likely to find oil in areas where finds have already been made," Oakes says.

"The density of wells drilled off Norway is less than in the UK, so we consider it to be less mature and therefore believe it still has a lot of potential."

He admits "most of the obvious structures have already been found" in Norway's mature province, but adds: "We are adopting different ideas in looking at existing geology, and also trying to gain new clues from historic wells.

"One has to think smart and consider geological factors, such as hydrocarbon migration, uplift and tilting of structures - things that we have never really looked at in detail before.

Much of the company's exploration work in the coming years will focus on finding more in the vicinity of existing and new North Sea fields - such as a round Brage and Skarfjell, which it operates, as well as Knarr and Edvard Grieg where it is a partner - to maximize utilisation of infrastructure.

Merge Wintershall's Asha discovery, where a recent appraisal effort failed to yield additional resource potential, now looks likely to be wrapped into Det Norske Oljeselskap's Ivar Aasen field as a unitised development. Oakes says the explorer has "plenty of good North Sea prospects" likely to be drilled in 2015 or 2016, and beyond. It also intends to drill a wildcat at the Imsa prospect in the vicinity of its Maria discovery in the Norwegian Sea next year. Oakes says Wintershall "has a similar mindset" to some of the partners with which it is jointly bidding on a few licences in mature areas in the current Awards in Pre-defined Areas round, with awards expected in January.

Wintershall is taking a more studied approach to the Barents - where it has only live licences - and Oakes says it will do its homework before leaping into the play, having recently participated in a well at Eni's Bonna prospect that came up dry. However, he adds: "We are looking at seismic data from the southeast Barents for the 23rd licensing round, which looks very good."

© Steve Marshall/Upstream

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