New opportunities, old challenges

26.06.2013
Becoming chief executive of Petoro makes Grethe K Moen responsible for a third of Norway’s oil and gas reserves as manager of the state’s direct financial interest (SDFI) on the NCS.
  • Bjørn Rasen and Per Lars Tonstad. Photo: Emile Ashley

Grethe K MoenMoen has previously been Petoro’s vice president for mature areas, and still sees this as a priority area. She will also be giving full attention to the development of new discoveries and opportunities along the gas value chain.

But she is not willing to make any programme declarations just a few days after taking over as president and CEO from Kjell Pedersen, who had run Petoro since it was founded in 2001.

Asked what she regards as the major challenges on the NCS and which opportunities look attractive, however, she starts with her former area of responsibility.

“I still regard improved recovery from the mature fields as a priority job. And we must take decisions on measures now, or huge assets will be left behind on the NCS.”

Moen also sees the great opportunities offered in other parts of the business.

“We’re now getting new major developments, such as Johan Sverdrup in the North Sea, several years after we thought it was all over for ‘elephant’ discoveries.

“It was almost more than we had dared to hope for. And the Johan Castberg field has confirmed the Barents Sea as a new oil province. The far north is highly inter-esting.”

She emphasises at the same time that “we’re taking with us our best expertise and our best practice in the area of health, safety and the environment.”

Moen has earlier headed HSE work in Shell’s European upstream business – while simultaneously leading the Anglo-Dutch oil company’s exploration and production activities on the NCS.

She is also looking forward to working on the gas value chain – another area where she has previous experience. As a new recruit to Statoil, she worked in the mid-1980s on the big Troll sales agreements which truly launched Norway as a gas nation.

Major changes currently under way in the gas market bring with them considerable uncertainty. Moen sees the challenges, but would prefer to concentrate on the opportunities facing Norwegian gas.

A pertinent question is whether she is satisfied with the commitment of the companies to squeezing more out of their mature oil fields – and whether she feels that the regulator and the state-owned company must find new ways to cooperate in securing the recovery of these huge assets.

“That’s a very interesting idea,” she acknowledges. “But we have different roles – the NPD as a driving force and regulator, and we as the commercial prime mover.

“We can’t achieve anything without decisions in the licences, and must convince our oil company partners that this is sensible to do. And what’s profitable? Those who’re going to make the investment determine that.”

 

Deeds

Moen amplified her view that deeds must follow words on mature fields in an interview for the Petoro Perspective magazine published by the company last autumn.

The main features of this interview are reproduced here, with the first question put to her being whether oil companies will prioritise mature fields when new projects entice.

“We don’t see the same commitment to mature fields as with the big new finds,” Moen admits. “Everyone says they want to maximise oil recovery, but hang back when it comes to decisions and deeds.”

Petoro’s 10 largest fields on the NCS currently account for about 80 per cent of its output and will continue to do so in 2025, she adds.

As a driving force for maximising the value of Norway’s mature fields, the company wants the pace of production drilling stepped up and profitable producing life made more robust.

“Necessary action must be taken now”, says Moen, who fears that long-term and capital-intensive measures are being given a lower priority and that the moment has already passed for some mature fields.

“If we wait longer, it could be too late for a number of them. That could cost society very dear,” she declares. Nor is anyone likely to be held to account for failing to take decisions soon enough. “The wasted opportunities to make giant revenues will be forgotten unless we continue to focus attention on these fields.”

 

Commitment

Moen emphasises that improved recovery from mature fields can be achieved by a conscious commitment and prioritisation.

“The companies need their best brains here, people with experience and insight. This is complex and demanding, and management must take the lead in showing that it has a responsi-bility to recover more from the mature fields.”

Production from a number of fields is reaching a critical point. Installations are aging and drilling rates declining drastically because rigs are deployed for other jobs.

More maintenance and up-dating – or redesign – are needed to ensure that reserves can be recovered within the producing lifespan of installations.

Investment required to achieve this must be made while remaining reserves are large enough to ensure solid overall profitability.

“Costs will be high,” Moen says. “As reserves decline, the water cut steadily rises and more gas must be injected to maintain pressure and production.

“Water-treatment capacity needs expanding, which demands conversion work on installations. More chemicals must eventually be added to boost recovery.

“This all has to be paid for, and production must yield enough cash flow to make such spending acceptable. If the commitment to mature fields is postponed, investment risk could become too high because profit-ability is marginal.”


Positive

Moen emphasises that the willingness to make a continued commitment to mature fields definitely exists. “And much that’s positive has happened.

“A lot of good work has been done to tie satellites back to existing fields. Standardisation provides a sound basis for extending production.

“Reservoir understanding is better than ever, too. New technologies like four-dimensional modelling and permanent seismic arrays on the seabed can tell us much more about the way fields develop over time. That improves the basis for investment decisions.”

A commitment to mature fields calls for agreement between operator and partners. Moen says that Petoro will carry out detailed work to document technology and systems which can improve recovery from such fields.

Experience from the UK continental shelf, which is a decade ahead of the NCS in this area, will be utilised.

Moen draws a parallel with marriage: “New love offers intoxication and adventure, enthusiasm and drive. When you’ve lived together for 20-30 years, life is mostly dull by comparison.

“Partners must struggle more to retain the spark. Mature fields need the same ‘guts’ as new lovers. Johan Sverdrup will be developed regardless.”

 

Drilling

The pace of drilling on the NCS has declined dramatically, with the number of producers drilled from fixed platforms probably halved over the past five years.

At the same time, drilling costs have exploded. Production wells drilled today are more complex and time-consuming than before.

“Rigs are also used for a lot of purposes other than drilling,” Moen points out. “That includes well workovers, improvements and maintenance, shutting down and plugging old wells, and measures to boost short-term production.

“These jobs must be done, but don’t provide access to new parts of a reservoir. It may be possible to do them in different ways and with equipment other than rigs.

“Getting the drilling rate back up again is very important, and we’re taking steps to secure our own units and simpler rigs. Wellhead platforms should also be considered more often as a means of radically increasing the number of production wells.”

A positive feature in her view is that the industry has identified a number of possible future wells on mature fields over the past year.

“But I’m not sure we’ll manage to drill them all before the fields shut down. Estimates for both drilling pace and producing life could be too optimistic. This must be clarified before we choose measures.”

Moen fears there is a great risk that cost and price trends make it unprofitable to commit to a lot of wells in a field’s late life.

In her view, the companies may have to drill more at an earlier stage to get the number of boreholes needed to recover the available oil.

 

Grethe K Moen

 

“We can secure a large part of its value for future generations by acting now,”
she concludes.