Oil and gas
May 29th 2008
From The Economist print edition
Production in the North Sea is falling faster than predicted
GORDON BROWN must have found Aberdeen a welcome refuge from London, where mutinous lorry-drivers clogged a main road in protest against the cost of diesel. The Scottish city is the centre of Britain’s oil and gas industry, and the only place in the country where the eye-wateringly high price of oil is cause for celebration.
Mr Brown was in the Granite City on May 28th to discuss how to maximise production from Britain’s oil and gas fields. Exhorting firms to pump harder, while a useful political gesture, is unlikely to make much difference to global prices. But that does not mean that revving up output is a bad idea.
Britain’s glory days as a fossil-fuel producer are over (in 1999 it was the world’s sixth-biggest source of oil and gas; today it is 12th), but the business still employs around 30,000 people directly. Petropounds have made Aberdeen one of the most prosperous towns in the country, and expensive oil means more tax revenues. Oil and gas last year overtook banking as the biggest payer of corporate tax, contributing £7.8 billion ($15.6 billion) to the exchequer. Officials predict tax revenues of £9.9 billion this year, although firms say it could be nearer £12 billion if prices stay high.
英国作为矿物燃料生产国的辉煌时代一去不复返 (在1999年，英国是世界第六大油气生产国;目前位列第12位)，但是油气工业仍在直接地雇佣着3万多员工。石油暴利使阿伯丁成为英国最为繁荣的城市之 一，并且昂贵的石油则意味国家将获取更多的税收。去年，英国油气产业向财政部交纳的公司税高达78亿英镑(156亿美元)，已超过银行部门成为最大的纳税 单位。官员预测油气产业在今年交纳的税额将会达到99亿英镑。不过，企业表示如果油价居高不下，交纳的税额可能接近120亿英镑。
Mr Brown has his work cut out to raise output. Since its peak in 1999 production has fallen by 40%. The North Sea has been pumped and drilled for 40 years and the big finds are gone. The discovery in 2001 of the Buzzard field, with over 500m barrels of recoverable oil, was a rare exception in a basin where the average new field holds just 20m barrels. Many new finds are technically tricky, which pushes up the cost of exploiting them. And although high oil prices make it attractive to try, they have led to higher operating costs as well.
在 提高油气产量上，布朗仍需要做不少艰难的工作。自1999年达到顶峰以来，英国油气产量已下滑了40%。北海油田被钻探和开采了40年，规模较大的油田已 不复存在。在北海，新勘探油田的可采石油平均储量为2000万桶，于2001年发现的储量在5亿桶的Buzzard油田却是一个罕见的特例。许多新油田在 技术上出现了难题，这已增加了开发油田的费用。虽然高油价吸引着企业到北海进行尝试，但是高油价已引发了更高的运营成本。
With the low-hanging fruit plucked, the hope is that smaller companies will come in to pursue modest new discoveries or wring the last drops from existing fields. There are encouraging signs. Apache, a mid-sized American firm, has increased production from the elderly Forties field, the North Sea’s biggest, which it acquired from BP in 2003. Reforms to the licensing system have helped, with the latest round attracting a record 193 applications. And there is still unexplored territory. The seabed west of the Shetlands may contain another 3 billion-4 billion barrels of oil and gas.
众所周知，低垂的果子易采摘。令人寄予厚望是，较小型企业将迅速跟进，进行勘探产量中等的新油田 或从现存油田中挤出最后一滴石油。目前，在此方面已有鼓舞人心的迹象。自2003年从英国石油公司BP收购Forties油田（北海最大的油田）后，美国 中型企业Apache已在这一开采多年的油田中提高了油气产量。对许可制度的改革也提供了许多帮助。在开发北海油田上，最新一轮的改革举措已前所未有地吸 引了193家申请单位。此外，北海还有尚勘测的领域。比如，在舍德兰群岛西边的海床可能就会存在30——40亿桶油气。
In spite of all this, production has fallen sharply. Oil & Gas UK, the industry’s trade body, had hoped that output would be around 3m barrels a day in 2010, a target that now looks impossible. Worries over decommissioning costs are starting to affect asset trading, says Alex Kemp of Aberdeen University. There are no pipelines west of the Shetlands, and without the prospect of giant new fields to lure them, companies are reluctant to build any.
尽管如此，英国油气产量还是在急剧下降。油气产业的贸易机构Oil & Gas UK希望，石油日产量在2010年能够达到约300万桶，但现在看起来是一个难以实现的目标。阿伯丁大学的Alex Kemp表示，对石油管道老化的忧虑也开始影响着石油交易。舍德兰群岛（ Shetlands）西部并无石油管道。在未发现新型大油田的前景下，得不到利益诱惑的众多企业也不愿意修建任何管道。
But Mr Brown has other tools at his disposal. In his previous incarnation as chancellor, he pushed the tax rate for oil and gas firms to 50%, far higher than the 28% other companies pay. If he is serious about maximising production, reversing that would be a good start.