The Depletion Of The North Sea and Its Significance For Western Europe

in Peak Oil by

Abstract for
Uppsala, Sweden, May 23-25, 2002
Organized by Uppsala University and ASPO, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil

The Depletion Of The North Sea and Its Significance For Western Europe
By J. Peter Gerling & Hilmar Rempel
Bundesanstalt fuer Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe, Hannover, Germany

The North Sea is nowadays a mature oil and gas province. However, over the past decades, western Europe has enjoyed a period of increasing oil and gas production, coming to a large extent from the prolific North Sea. This blinded many people to the fact that it too faces the inevitable pattern of depletion. When oil and gas discoveries peaked in 1973 and 1979, they delivered the clear message that the peak of production had to follow. For oil, it had now arrived whereas gas production is still increasing.

First oil was discovered in 1969 (Ekofisk), the production commenced in the year 1971. Peak discovery was in 1974, peak production (294 Mt) occurred in 2000 mainly from Norway (159 Mt) and the UK (114 Mt).Cumulative oil production yielded in 4.6 Gt until the end of the year 2000. Reserves and resources amount to 3,1 and 2.0 Gt, respectively. Depletion midpoint arrived in 2001, the beginning production decline rate is assumed to be in the range 4-6 %/a. In the year 2000, the North Sea share of Western Europe’s oil demand came to 44 %.

West Sole in the UK sector was the first gas discovery in the North Sea (1965), peak discovery appeared in 1979 (Troll field). Gas production in the North Sea started as early as 1967. It increased steadily up to an annual amount of 201 G.m3 in the year 2000. Main offshore producers are the UK (114.4 G.m3), Norway (49.9 G.m3), and the Netherlands (29 G.m3). Gas production is still increasing. The cumulative production came to 2.8 T.m3 until the end of the year 2000. Reserves and resources are 4.65 T.m3 and 1.5 T.m3. In 2000, 49 % of the Western European natural gas demand derived from the North Sea. Due to the different production profile, natural gas production from the North Sea can be expected another 20-30 years.

The oil consumption of western Europe (EU + Norway, Switzerland, Turkey) is rather stable since the 1980’s and amounted to 675 Mt in the year 2000. In addition to the 44 % of oil from the North Sea, another 155.7 Mt came from the Middle East, 88.8 Mt from the FSU, and 101 Mt from Africa (mainly Libya, Nigeria, and Algeria).

The natural gas consumption of western Europe is continuously increasing since the 1980’s. In the year 2000, it makes up 414 G.m3. Besides the 49% of gas obtained from the North Sea, natural gas will come from Russia and North Africa. It is worthwhile to notice that the gap between demand and supply from the North Sea will steadily increase due to growing gas demand.

Considering the inevitable depletion of oil and gas in the North Sea, imports will have to rise until 2020 to >70% of oil and >60% of gas. It will cause Europe to look eastwards to Russia and the Caspian region as production recovers there from the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Europe will face an increasing competition with the US, Japan, China, and other Asian countries. However – on a long term – much will have to come from the Middle East. But what will happen if exporting countries realize that their interest is better served by conserving supplies for their domestic markets?

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