Chilly North Sea Comes Back to Life

The Wall Street Journal -

New Technology Is Set to Liberate Natural Gas That for 25 Years Was Trapped Beneath Sea Floor.

SHETLAND, Scotland—On the windswept hills that line the west coast of the Shetland Islands, roaming sheep bear lonely witness to a surprising industrial comeback.

A gray, metal-and-concrete skeleton slowly emerging from the peat bogs makes up the last leg of Laggan-Tormore, Total SA’s  FP.FR -1.44%£3.3 billion ($5 billion) project to extract natural gas from the North Sea’s wild western edge. For more than 25 years since its discovery, the field has lain trapped beneath a bed of hard rock and deep, stormy waters. But the French oil company says that by the summer of next year, the gas finally will be liberated, meeting 5% of the U.K.’s needs.

It is a story that has been repeated elsewhere, confounding expectations of decline in the North Sea. Areas that 10 years ago were thought to be thoroughly exploited, or too technically challenging, now are yielding major new developments.

“Technology and science showed there is oil where people thought there wouldn’t be oil any more,” says Manoucherh Takin, from the London-based Center for Global Energy Studies.

U.K. North Sea oil and gas production has dropped by more than half since its peak of around 4.6 million barrels a day in 1999 as aging fields have become depleted. Norway’s similar-size peak came five years later, but production has dropped almost 15% since then.

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