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Nipa leaves Aker BP in deadlock over Noaka

North Sea wildcat failed to add resources that could have helped in development dispute

Norwegian operator Aker BP came up empty-handed at its Nipa exploration well in the North Sea, bringing the company no closer to finding a solution to a drawn-out dispute with Equinor over development options for the so-called Noaka area.

The semi-submersible drilling rig Deepsea Stavanger wrapped up the wildcat only 13 days after it was spudded after finding a total of 55 metres of water-bearing reservoir rocks in the Middle Jurassic Tarbert and Ness formations, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate said.

Aker BP added the Nipa well in production licence 986 to its drilling schedule this summer, aiming to add resources in the North of Alvheim Krafla-Askja (Noaka) area where the company is embroiled in an ongoing dispute with Norwegian giant Equinor about development solutions.

Additional operated resources could help Aker BP’s position in the discussions or enable a new hub platform that does not include the Equinor-operated Krafla and Askja finds, which Equinor wants to develop separately.

In July, Aker BP announced a discovery of 80 million to 200 million barrels of oil equivalent at the Liataarnet prospect in the Noaka area, pushing total resources in the region towards 700 million boe from the current estimate of about 570 million boe.

Before drilling, Aker BP estimated the prospect had potential resources of between 35 million and 115 million boe at Nipa, which lies 52 kilometres south of the Equinor-operated Oseberg B platform.

A development of the nine Noaka discoveries, spread out over a distance of 60 kilometres between the Alvheim field in the south and Oseberg in the north, has been held up for more than a year as operators Aker BP and Equinor disagree on a development solution, with Aker BP favouring a central hub for all the finds.

An Aker BP spokesman refused to be drawn on any progress in the Noaka area development dispute, but sources told Upstream there remains a stalemate between the companies.

Some observers believe that finding additional resources in its operated licences in the area would make it easier for Aker BP to allow Equinor to go ahead with its preferred option of tying back the Krafla and Askja finds to its operated Oseberg field, which has available capacity.

Equinor and Aker BP are 50:50 partners in the Krafla and Askja discoveries, allowing the latter to block operator Equinor's plans for a separate development.

A dry result at Nipa is "unfortunate", one source told Upstream, particularly as Nipa was expected to hold Oseberg-quality oil, which is lighter than most of the oil Aker BP has in the area.

This type of oil would have been valuable for Aker BP’s preferred hub platform, to avoid potentially having to import lighter oil from other fields to improve recovery from reservoirs with heavier oil.

Upstream reported last month that the company’s recent Liataarnet discovery consists of biodegraded and viscous oil, of which only 80 million and 200 million boe are deemed recoverable from a total volume of between 500 million and 700 million boe in place.

Norwegian authorities have been hesitant to get involved in the deadlocked conflict over the Noaka development, but the government will eventually have to do so unless the parties find a compromise.

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