Patience is a virtue

28.06.2017
Working with oil and gas calls for long-term thinking – and endurance. Tomas Mørch’s first job when he joined the NPD in 1992 was to produce reservoir models for Snorre. He is still keeping an eye on this North Sea field.

| Bjørn Rasen and Monica Larsen (photos)

Doubling. Tomas Mørch, an assistant director for development and operations in the NPD, describes Snorre as “a fantastic journey,” with a doubling in its estimated resources. “This makes it one of the biggest improved recovery projects on the NCS.”

Doubling.
Tomas Mørch, an assistant director for development and operations in the NPD, describes Snorre as “a fantastic journey,” with a doubling in its estimated resources. “This makes it one of the biggest improved recovery projects on the NCS.”

 

All the signs are that a decision on the Snorre Expansion project will be taken before the end of this year by operator Statoil and its partners.

They are due to submit a plan for development and operation (PDO) which calls for the installation of six or seven large subsea templates providing up to 28 new well slots.

“That could allow Snorre to stay on stream until well after 2040 – 30 years beyond the original PDO forecast,” says Mørch, who is an assistant director for development and operations.

“Resource extraction will increase by at least about 190 million barrels [30 million standard cubic metres] of oil – equivalent to a Goliat field.”

 

Fantastic

He describes Snorre as a “fantastic journey”, with its estimated resources more than doubled since the start. “This makes it one of the biggest improved recovery projects on the NCS. It remains among the Norwegian fields with the most remaining oil.”

The NPD earlier believed that a third platform would be needed on Snorre, but this became “financially demanding” after oil prices slumped.

Many people have described the abandonment of the platform concept as a loss of prestige for the NPD, but Mørch rejects that view.

“Our most important consideration is – and has always been – to achieve a solution which takes care of the big resource potential on the field. In other words, more wells.

“Sanction for the new solution would be a victory for us. It provides the same level of resource utilisation and as many wells as a platform – with lower costs and improved profitability.”

Where does this resoluteness stem from? The spark was ignited back in 1992 when Mørch and colleague Bjørn Anders Lundschien produced reservoir models for Snorre.

Their aim was to determine whether water alternating gas (WAG) injection could drive out more oil. The pair wrote a paper on this issue which they presented at seminars.

That led in turn to a good dialogue with Saga Petroleum, the then Snorre operator, which had reached other conclusions in its WAG study. Mørch says the NPD model fitted the actual outcome.

 

Difficult

Qualified as a reservoir engineer, he has continued to work with Snorre through various roles at the NPD and explains that its reservoir is difficult.

Many solutions have been proposed to improve recovery from the field, which lies at a depth of 2 000-2 500 metres beneath the seabed.

The reservoir comprises Jurassic and Triassic riverine deposits from around 200 million years ago, and covers roughly 10 by 25 kilometres.

Mørch and his colleagues have also studied this formation at close hand a number of times by visiting Ainsa in the Spanish Pyrenees, where it is exposed to the light of day.

“You can walk around and see what Snorre looks like,” he says. “These analogues at Ainsa are used in the models we produce to improve our understanding of the field.

”Mørch calculates that he and Lundschien have given courses in this Spanish location more than 30 times – and will be heading down again in September.

“You get an insight into what the reservoir looks like, and can learn how wells should be placed and oil recovered. That’s useful when each well costs several hundred million kroner.”

He points out that advances in drilling technology have helped a lot. “These include horizontal wells, well completion, and guiding gas and water in the reservoir zones to where they do best at driving oil to the production wells.

“More wells have been drilled on Snorre than anyone could have imagined when the field came on stream in 1992.”

 

Battles

Tough battles have been fought over Snorre in meeting rooms at the operator and the NPD. But Mørch nevertheless describes the dialogue as good.

“Positive collaboration with Statoil as the present operator and the other licensees mean we have jointly arrived at good solutions.

“We’ve made it clear throughout what we think and expect. Unambiguous signals have been given and conditions set on what we consider prudent recovery.”

Generally speaking, the broad picture is a battle over investment cash and with senior management in big groups who believe they can get a better return elsewhere than the NCS.

“That’s their job, but they also have a clear responsibility to utilise Norwegian resources to the full,” emphasises Mørch. “Our job is to manage Norway’s oil and gas.

“Pursuant to the Petroleum Act, all profitable resources must be recovered. The government won’t allow the companies simply to skim the cream.”

He believes that the NPD’s encouragement has been crucial in ensuring that the additional resources in Snorre and elsewhere are recovered.

“These developments involve major capital spending, to be sure. But such investment pays off – with interest.”

 

Portfolio

Mørch has not worked full-time on Snorre – few NPD staffers stick solely with one task or project. His portfolio extends much wider, and he is currently responsible for the Barents Sea.

Earlier jobs include assessing players who want to enter the NCS, project coordination for a number of development projects, and area studies to persuade companies to cooperate across licences.

His knowledge of the NCS is also applied internationally through the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad). The Oil for Development programme supports other countries in achieving the best management of their petroleum resources.

But Snorre has been his biggest single involvement – so much so that colleagues seldom succeed in finding holes in what he knows about the field and its history.

In what he describes as “weak moments when I got a bit confused,” he has actually had bigger problems remembering family birthdays and his own wedding anniversary.

A somewhat overeager commitment also brought Mørch into local politics in Randaberg local authority outside Stavanger, where he sits on various committees and is an alternate council member.

His inability to keep quiet drew him into the Christian Democrats. He told the politicians that Randaberg was the local authority in the region which paid most in road tolls for the smallest return. “That did it.”

Social issues interest him. He wants tax revenues to provide the largest possible value creation for society. “And that also applies to oil issues.”

His fixed term as an assistant director expires this autumn – he is actually on overtime. “I’m looking forward to new opportunities in the NPD, and will certainly work with vigour.”

At the same time, he will be letting go of Snorre. “That’ll be like a divorce, and one that leaves me with a heavy heart.”

 

Force. “We’re a driving force for getting out even more oil,” says Tomas Mørch, an assistant director for development and operations in the NPD.

Force.
“We’re a driving force for getting out even more oil,” says Tomas Mørch,
an assistant director for development and operations in the NPD.

 

“We’ve made it clear throughout what we think and expect. Unambiguous signals have been given and conditions set on what we consider prudent recovery.”