Broad-minded quintet

Five operators on the NCS have lifted their gaze from their individual fields and finds to view a complete quadrant as a whole. The result could be a bigger cake for everyone.
  • Astri Sivertsen and Anette Moi (illustration)

Collective effort.
Five North Sea operators have collaborated in an area forum for 18 months to outline joint solutions.


GDF Suez, Statoil, Wintershall, RWE-DEA and Eni are all operators in quadrant 35 in the northeastern North Sea. This embraces producers Gjøa and Vega as well as the Skarfjell, Astero, Titan, Grosbeak, Afrodite and Aurora discoveries.

Operated by GDF Suez, the Gjøa platform is the only processing facility in the area at the moment and has spare capacity as oil output from the three-yearold field declines.

This can be exploited by other companies with nearby discoveries, but its use would normally be governed by the first-come, firstserved principle enshrined in the regulations.

That means the first to secure a tie-in agreement with the Gjøa licensees could also determine to a great extent how these facilities are to be utilised.

According to Karel Schothorst, project manager for Gjøa area development at GDF Suez, the result could be sub-optimum and even prevent others from securing a tie-in for a long time.

Instead, the five operators sat down together 18 months ago in an area forum to take a broad view and to outline solutions which can benefit everyone.



This arena was established at the initiative of the NPD, which wrote to the five operators urging them to collaborate over developing all the resources in the quadrant.

“That letter did wonders,” says Schothorst. “We wouldn’t have had a forum or established such broad cooperation between so many operators without it.

“If we or one of the others in the area had proposed this ourselves, it would have taken a long time to create the trust needed for a good dialogue.”

As it was, GDF Suez took up the NPD’s gauntlet and persuaded the others to join in. Schothorst himself served as the forum’s first chair.

He says the initiative was timely, given six discoveries available for development in an area with spare capacity and infrastructure. The need to collaborate was clear.

The quintet’s first step was to draw up a charter or statement of purpose, followed by a road map for the way the forum was to develop and rules to govern their interaction.

Commercial discussions were prohibited within the arena, for instance. Nor was it permitted to promote one’s own concepts and solutions.

“That often leads to a dialogue for or against, instead of a focus on facts, common issues and possible synergies,” Schothorst says. “Some try to convince others, which isn’t fruitful.”

Instead, he explains, the participants assumed they were all licensees for every discovery in the area. A real area perspective meant it did not matter which reservoir the oil and gas came from.

Another important consideration was to withstand the urge to start acquiring data, which is usually the first impulse of engineers when they get together.

“You can be completely sidetracked by data, and are never satisfied,” warns Schothorst. “It’s not even certain that you need all this information.

“But the worst aspect is that excessive data undermine scenario thinking. It’s incredibly important to keep information at a high and simple level.”

When the work began, the companies where only asked to provide details about the reserve base for the individual fields and finds, and an estimate of when these might come on stream.

“That was all we shared, and it proved possible to have very meaningful discussions on that basis,” Schothorst explains.



The forum produced what he calls synthetic or generic profiles for all the oil and gas volumes, and then added these all up in order to identify spare capacity and bottlenecks.

This exercise also showed which parameters were important to follow up, and made it possible to come up with ideas on how the area could best be developed.

Starting cautiously with relatively little information also helped to build trust, Schothorst maintains. When participants learn more than they reveal, they see that cooperation pays off.

That can then encourage them to extend their collaboration, rather in the same way that a fly wheel steadily picks up more and more speed.

The partners issued their first report in October, which identified opportunities for and constraints on and future solutions in the area.

Specific field development concepts have been suggested. The licensees for the Wintershalloperated Skarfjell discovery, for example, are doing a feasibility study of various options.

One case involves a Skarfjell project related to Gjøa and the Titan and Astero finds. Building on the forum’s work, this concept will be pursued by an engineering study in the licence.



A development concept will normally depend on results from wildcat and appraisal wells. Waiting for these to be drilled is natural, since much more is then known about what can be recovered and how.

But the area forum felt it was useful to have an dialogue on the opportunities in advance. The scenarios are so well defined that well information will not make much difference in any event.

“We’ve saved huge amounts of time in terms of area solutions by not waiting for results from these wells to come in,” Schothorst emphasises.

“Everyone agrees that doing this exercise before drilling has been completed, before we know too much, is actually an important lesson for success as a forum.”

In his view, the companies would have had a less open attitude if they had waited. They would have been constrained by internal processes and expectations from owners and other stakeholders.

The forum was also assisted by a neutral, independent strategy consultant. This helped to keep the process at a high and conceptual level and strengthened trust between the participants.

All the information generated by the forum has been shared between some 15 licensees in the area, with minutes of meetings and other documents posted to the joint License2Share website. Biannual status meetings have also taken place with the licensees.

The forum will continue as long as it is needed, with the chair rotating on an annual basis. Statoil took over in October, and the aim is for each company to hold this post once.


No decisions

The forum members have made it clear all along that they take no decisions. Development solutions for each discovery are studied and determined by the relevant production licence.

According to Schothorst, the forum is neither a waste of time nor a “super licence” which takes decisions over the heads of the licensees.

“What we do is to secure a coherent area perspective and insights for the benefit of all the licences,” he emphasises.

Although some of the companies possess more knowledge and experience than others, he is convinced that all the participants have benefited greatly from the work.

“The better we collectively understand the area, the better and more rational decisions we’ll be able to take and the greater our chances are of finding optimum solutions. The cake can then be bigger for all of us.”