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Wintershall centres on SkarfjellGerman operator Iooks to establish major new production hub in the northern North Sea

GERMANY'S Wintershall is looking to establish a major new production hub in the northern North Sea centred on its Skarfjell discovery, with a decision on development options dependent on the results of an ongoing appraisal well due by the end of the year. The emerging project is one of two new operated developments being pursued by Wintershall - with the Maria field in the Norwegian Sea the first on its radar after making its operatorship debut off Norway when it Look over the Brage platform from Statoil last month apart of an asset swap. The company saw its Norwegian oil and gas output leap overnight from 3000 to almost 40,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day on taking control of Brage. Wintershall aims to lift this figure to 50,000 boepd by 2015 as part of its fast-track expansion off the country since gaining its first Iicences in 2007. It plans to invest €2 billion ($2.7 billion) in exploration and field development in Norway and the UK by 2015.

lncrease output Exploitation of last year's Skarfjell discovery figures prominently in Winterhall's plans to further increase output, with the latest appraisal being drilled by the semi submersible Transocean Arctic south of the structure seeking to firm up the existing recoverable resource range of 60 million to 160 million barrels of oil. If the result comes in at the upper end of this range, Wintershall would look to develop the find using a standalone floating production, storage and off loading vessel that could also tie in the nearby Grosbeak, Titan and Astero discoveries. Alternatively, it could be tied back to the nearby Gjoa platform operated by GdF Suez, though a combined solution with a tie-back only for gas and a new bub at Skarfjell is another possibility. "This definitely has the potential to be a new hub development that would also unlock other discoveries in the vicinity. We are talking about optimisation of the whole area and the various operators are working together for an area-wide solution," says Wintershall’s managing director for Norway, Bernd Schrimpf.

While a timeline for development depends on which option is chosen, the company intends 10 establish a team to evaluate the different scenarios once the appraisal results are in. Schrimpf believes the upcoming project has the potential to breathe new life into Gjoa – in which Wintershall acquired a 15% stake after the Statoil swap - by utilising spare capacity set to become available at the facility by the time Skarfjell comes on stream. Being a relatively new platform, having only starred production in 2010, will also work in the company's favour by avoiding potential technical issues with older installations, according to Wintershall's head of global exploration and production, Martin Bachmann. The company's development plans for the Maria oil discovery are though more definitive, with a subsea tieback to the Statoil operated Kristin, Aasgard B and Heidrun platforms emerging as "the most economic solution" ahead of an FPSO, he says.

Commercial issues
Bachmann explains "a number of complex technical and commercial issues" still need to be resolved, including the nature of modifications to host platforms that will affect cost levels. Wintershall aims to make a final concept selection by the end of the year, with a plan for development and operation due to be submitted to the authorities in 2014 and production start-up targeted for 2017. It now has an appraisal lined up of the nearby Rodriguez gas condensate discovery, with the Solberg probe set to be spudded possibly by the end of this year, though it could slip into 2014. Schrimpf says the find presents a processing conundrum and the operator needs to determine whether the Rodriguez wellstream could flow to the same host facilities. Meanwhile, Wintershall is moving forward as a partner with operator Talisman Energy on the ill-fated Yme project, where the development concept is under reevaluation after the controversial decision to scrap the North Sea field's new build production jack up due to myriad technical issues. Alternative concepts are now being screened by licence partners with the work set to be finalised by the end of the year, after which a final concept selection will be made before front-end engineering and design work is carried out, according to Schrimpf. He says the chosen solution is likely to make use of existing subsea infrastructure including a caisson with wellheads connected to a tank on the seafloor.

This would rule out the use of an FPSO, with a converted jack-up cited as a possible candidate.

While Talisman is looking to shed its Norwegian assets, Bachmann dismisses the question of whether Wintershall would be interested in acquiring the Canadian player's operated interest in Yme as "pure speculation". He says though that active portfolio management remains "very much part of our business", adding that Wintershall "would have a look at" compatriot RWE Dea, which has been put up for sale by its German parent RWE and has been seen as a potential acquisition candidate.

For the time being, the wholly-owned subsidiary of German chemicals giant BASF is focusing on organic growth and is looking to exploit additional resources at the Brage field. It is studying both infill drilling and the possible use or schizophyllan biopolymers - now being tested at an onshore pilot in Germany - for enhanced oil recovery.

It may also consider installation of a new well template to tap resources in the northern part of the field that could be tied back to the platform.

"We did not acquire Brage just to produce for a few years and then abandon it. We believe there is a lot of remaining potential and we want to focus on increased oil recovery as a key technology to unlock additional resources," Bachmann says. The takeover of Brage, he says, "marks an acceleration of our strategy to become a full life-cycle producer" - and the company is set to take another big step towards its production goal next year when BG Group's Knarr field, in which it is a partner, is due on stream.

© Steve Marshall/Upstream

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