Oil production has begun at the biggest development project in the North Sea in a decade, at the Mariner field 160km east of Shetland, with more than 300 million barrels of heavy crude expected to be extracted.
Norwegian giant Equinor said Mariner was key to its expansion into UK waters, representing one of the biggest cash injections for the industry in the last decade. Friends of the Earth Scotland, however, said fossil fuels extraction should be scaled down, not increased.
With up to 3 billion barrels in place, it is one of the UK’s largest oilfields and the project is expected to continue producing until 2050.
Mariner was first discovered in 1981 but in 2007 was taken over by Equinor, which changed its name from Statoil in May 2018 to reflect its supposed move away from fossil fuels.
Equinor submitting a field development plan in 2012 with up to 100 wells expected to be drilled over the next 12 to 14 years at Mariner’s two reservoirs.
Low flow rates meant it was not economically viable to recover the oil until extraction technology improved.
The state-owned Norwegian giant said Mariner would support more than 700 long-term jobs while contracts worth more than £1 billion had been handed to UK suppliers since work began.
Drilling started in December 2016 and around £6.4 billion has been spent at the field over the past seven years.
At its peak, output is expected to reach about 70,000 barrels of oil a day.
Hedda Felin of Equinor said: “The startup of the Mariner field marks a significant milestone for us as it’s our first UK operatorship and Mariner is our cornerstone. So it contributes to our commitment to be a safe and reliable long-term energy partner for the UK.
“We have a lot of new technologies to be applied on the field. We have been able to get much better data of the subsurface so we have been able to increase the recoverable volumes.
“Carbon and climate are at the core of everything we do and we want to push the energy transition in the right way.
“We believe there will be a need for both oil and gas and renewables. There are different opinions on how quick it will go but we will be part of that path.”
Mary Church of Friends of the Earth Scotland said: “The Mariner project is seriously bad news for life on Earth. We know we have got to stop burning oil and gas if we want to avoid climate breakdown, so every new field like this takes us in the wrong direction.
“Its time for the Scottish and UK governments to stop backing oil and gas expansion and instead redirect support and subsidies towards creating decent jobs in the renewable energy economy.”
The bulk of Equinor’s income continues to come from fossil fuels. Picture credit: YouTube