pounds 1.6bn North Sea oil field wins go-ahead

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Industrial Correspondent

The Government has given the go-ahead for a pounds 1.6bn oil field development in the North Sea, 150 miles east of Aberdeen. The so-called Etap project, which is a clutch of seven fields, is 53 per cent-owned by BP, which will also act as the operator.

The project is a first in bringing together a number of fields and operators within a single development. A spokesman for BP said: "Not many, if any, of these would have gone ahead as single fields. This is a first in being done collectively."

Announcing the approval, Tim Eggar, minister for energy and industry, said UK companies had won all important fabrication work, and the domestic industry was expected to secure "a very high proportion" of the capital investment budget.

The Etap partners include Shell, Esso, Agip, Murphy, Broken Hill Proprietary and Mitsubishi Oil. A City analyst said: "To get oil companies to work together in this way is a miracle. It means that the industry is changing the way it thinks."

The oil sector has been forced to take a more co-operative approach because of the maturity of the North Sea and the cost of exploiting smaller or far-flung fields.

The fields in Etap are Marnock, Mungo, Monan, Machar, Heron, Egret and Skua. In aggregate, they have about 400 million barrels of oil, 35 million barrels of natural gas liquids and more than a thousand billion cubic feet of gas.

The analyst said that the total combined reserves were probably more than each of the much-lauded new fields west of Shetland - Brittania and Schehallion. He said that, nevertheless, the pounds 1.6bn cost of development was high and could mean that the partners were also establishing infrastructure for further projects in the area.

The peak exports from Etap are expected to reach 210,000 barrels per day of oil and 360 million cubic feet of gas. Drilling will begin in the middle of the year with first production scheduled for the latter half of 1998. About 30 wells will be drilled.