As the UK finds itself in the midst of a gas crisis, striking figures have shown that North Sea production could be on the verge of winding up by the end of the decade.
Without the development and discovery of new fields, current reserves would support UKCS domestic production until 2030, according to Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) projections.
In a new report, the industry regulator said its estimate of proven and probable (2P) reserves in the UK, at the end of 2020, is 4.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) .
This is 0.8 billion boe less than at the end of 2019.
The OGA said the 2P figure only covers developed reserves – those where the infrastructure is already in place.
It does not take into account future developments or discoveries, including the controversial Cambo field of Siccar Point Energy.
In recent times, the project, which also involves Shell, has been at the epicenter of a political and societal debate on the future of the North Sea.
There are calls for West Shetland development to cope with the crisis, but the industry claims this will do nothing to meet demand for oil and gas and lead to increased imports.
Cambo could produce up to 255 million barrels of oil over its lifetime.
Other new developments in the North Sea being assessed include Equinor’s Rosebank field and BP’s Clair South project.
Commenting on the report, Alex Kemp, professor of petroleum economics at the University of Aberdeen, said: “The future of UKCS is now at a crossroads. The great uncertainty surrounding new field developments, both oil and gas, raises questions about what might happen in the post-2030 period.
“The rates of decline in production in developed fields in recent years are quite rapid. To prevent the entire production profile from falling rapidly, we need new developments. This is the fundamental point.
“At this time, there are great uncertainties as to the extent to which new field development permits will be granted due to questions about the environmental impact.
“But, there is no doubt that our consumption greatly exceeds our production and this is likely to become even more pronounced over the next ten or twenty years.”
Professor Kemp added that the recent “dramatic” increase in the price of gas could potentially lead to new developments.
Worrisome for the UK, the OGA report coincided with an unprecedented gas crisis that is also affecting much of Europe.
Since January, wholesale gas prices have climbed a remarkable 250%, with an increase of 70% since August alone.
To make matters worse, wind speeds have been low recently, creating a “perfect storm” for energy providers and causing some to collapse.
On Monday, Equinor was given the green light to increase production from its Oseberg and Troll fields in an attempt to ease the pressure on the market.
As one of Europe’s largest gas importers, the gas crisis has reinforced calls for approval of new UK North Sea fields to ensure continued security of energy supply .
Will Webster, Energy Policy Officer at Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) trading organization, said: “We will continue to need a range of energies through 2050 and beyond, including oil and gas.
“As one of the biggest consumers of gas in Europe, the recent spike in gas prices shows why the UK must continue to generate its own energy from local reserves.
“This will allow us to remain responsible for our own emissions, control environmental regulations and manage our dependence on volatile global markets. “
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