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By Martin Kelly
New technology will extend the life of the North Sea oil and gas industry by decades according to a leading industry figure.
Iain Hutchison, who is the founder of Merlin Extended Reach Drilling, said the sector could benefit from new techniques that allow fields previously thought too risky or marginal to be targeted.
Hutchison’s Perth based firm specialises in drilling wells that are miles from land or platforms and is currently looking at extending the current world's longest extended bore of 7.5 miles by 5 miles.
The specialist urged firms to grasp the opportunity that exists or risk falling behind:
"There is an opportunity out there in the North Sea, but we seem to have hit a stumbling block and we are in danger of falling behind in the UK.
"There is a chance to drill so many prospects which are relatively near to infrastructure and are real game-changers." the entrepreneur told Energy Voice.
Extended reach drilling allows a horizontal bore to be drilled that enables previously unreachable oil and gas deposits, located several miles from the rig, to be accessed. It also allows offshore reserves to be reached from an onshore rig.
"Extended-reach drilling (ERD) could add decades to the life of the North Sea," Hutchison added.
"There are a lot of prospects out there which operators say are uneconomic, and it is obviously due to the risk. If we start dependably exploiting these prospects, the clients will soon have an appetite to go further.
"Where are we going to be in 50 years? We will probably be a little bit further on than where we ever dreamed of."
With oil taking centre stage in the independence debate, the lifespan of the sector has become one of the most hotly disputed areas.
Both the UK and Scottish Government’s disagree on the potential revenue still left to be extracted from the sector. However as technology improves then current estimates will almost certainly to be revised upwards as fields once considered uneconomic become viable.
Hutchison's views support comments from the head of Oil and Gas UK, Martin Webb, who recently said current figures of 24 billion barrels remaining in the waters off Scotland's coast is an "underestimate".
The Scottish government's own conservative estimate, based on price for a barrel of oil of $100, suggests that there is at least £1.5 trillion worth of oil and gas still to be extracted. Brent crude is currently trading at $111 per barrel.
In May, the Paris based Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecast that the total revenue still to come from Scotland's oil and gas sector could be as high as £4 trillion.