The U.K.’s Moray Firth Basin has produced some major discoveries, including Nexen’s giant Buzzard Field. But more accurate exploration work and the application of better technologies are needed to help reveal the basin’s remaining potential and help turn around the U.K.’s current exploration downturn.

The downturn, according to Nexen Petroleum U.K.’s David Dutton, has seen the number of wells drilled in the last few years offshore the U.K. fall by around 64% from a peak of 45 in 2008 to around 15 in 2013. Speaking at PETEX on Nov. 19, Dutton pointed out that the number of wells this year is likely to be between 13 and 15.

He pointed out that the inner and outer Moray Firth have featured “a lot of discoveries over the last 30 or 40 years.” He highlighted the relatively recent discoveries made and operated by Nexen, such as the 220,000 bbl/d Buzzard Field, which was found in 2001 and which has an estimated 1.4 Bbbl of oil in place, and Golden Eagle, which came onstream just a few weeks ago.

Buzzard and Golden Eagle were high-impact discoveries that have impacted exploration strategies over the last 10 years in the Moray Firth, according to Dutton, where there are “a variety of plays to chase.” The Buzzard discovery, in particular, started drawing more players into that southwestern section of the basin, but the commercial success levels have not been good.

During the last 10 years, a total of 101 exploration wells have been drilled. The technical success rate in the Moray Firth has been around 39%, but the average commercial success rate is only 14%. “This could increase as more recent discoveries such as Liberator or Avalon earlier this year may progress to being sanctioned,” Dutton said.

The Jurassic play has received the most industry interest (with 54 of the wells during the last 10 years), Dutton added, but has not been that successful, with a 30% technical success rate and only an 11% commercial success rate.

Looking forward, he flagged deeper plays as an area that the industry needs to examine further. “There has been a lack of new data over the last 10 years on the deeper plays.”

The quality of the legacy seismic data available in the basin has been a “big hindrance,” he said, severely affecting the industry’s ability to understand the deeper parts of the basin. A couple of years ago, TGS shot a multiclient regional specification dataset, and this has led to a big improvement in the ability to map regionally across the basin, he added.

In conclusion, Dutton gave three suggestions for more successful exploration in the area, including “exploring in the right postcode and right plays,” meaning the Cretaceous and deeper plays, as well as better application of global technologies and know-how such as prestack depth migration.

He also encouraged further improvement in the interaction of the industry with academia through joint projects.