North Sea crude oil extraction falls in 2011 to lowest level in 30 years

September 8th, 2012 by International Economic Platform for Renewable Energies

According to a study by the International Economic Platform for Renewable Energies (IWR), a renewable energy institute in Muenster, Germany, the amount of crude oil drilled from the North Sea dropped to 124.7 million tonnes in 2011.

This is a 12% decline from 2010 when 140 million tonnes of crude oil was extracted, and represents the smallest amount extracted from the North Sea since 1982.

Dr Norbert Allnoch, IWR Director, said “compared to the record-breaking year of 1996, which saw 260 million tonnes drilled from the sea, oil extraction has already fallen by about 50%.”

The IWR study used data supplied by government organisations from the oil producing countries of Great Britain, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany that surround the North Sea.

Newly discovered oil fields are not stopping the drop in North Sea oil production. Since the peak in oil extraction in 1996, North Sea oil fields have continued to supply less and less oil.

According to Dr Allnoch, even newly discovered and supposedly large oil fields cannot prevent the general decline of North Sea oil. At best, he said, they simply extend drilling activities for fractionally longer.

“We would have to uncover a new huge oil field each year with a capacity of 125 million tonnes to be able to maintain current oil extraction rates. If oil extraction is kept at the same level as 2011 (about 125 million tonnes), the known and tested reserve fields in the North Sea will only last until 2020.

If the as yet unconfirmed reserves were actually found to exist, this would mean drilling could go on for a little longer, but nevertheless, according to Dr Allnoch, “the amount of North Sea oil will largely be insignificant in ten years time”.

Dr Allnoch believes that the North Sea will continue to be used as a source of energy. In coming years, the North Sea oil industry will take a back seat, while the offshore wind industry is picking up in Great Britain, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands.

“The offshore wind industry is now where the offshore oil industry was in 1971, when North Sea oil extraction began. The oil industry has overcome enormous challenges posed by new extraction technologies and innovations, something that the offshore wind industry will also experience,” Dr Allnoch said.  He is confident that Europe can continue to provide a safe supply of energy using its own resources.

Crude oil has been extracted from the North Sea since the early 1970s.  The oil crisis of 1973/74 made drilling for oil in the North Sea lucrative.

One of the first known major oil fields named “Brent” (north-east of the Shetland Isles) is symbolic of North Sea oil. The price of Brent oil is a major benchmark on the stock markets.

Oil extraction in the North Sea has followed a bell-shaped curve, with oil production rising to 260 million tonnes from 1971 to 1996 before falling ever faster in recent years.


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