Sixteen miles west of Blackpool, offshore England’s northwest coast, lies Spirit Energy’s Morecambe Bay gas fields, now in their fourth decade of pioneering gas production.
Morecambe has long been renowned for the contribution it makes to the UK energy sector. Since coming on stream on 9 January 1985, more than 6.5 trillion cubic feet - enough gas to fill Loch Ness 25 times over - has been extracted, processed and piped into the National Grid!
Not only does this exceed initial estimates; today Morecambe continues to heat roughly 1.5 million homes across the UK and accounts for around 15% of Spirit Energy’s total production on a typical day. The team in Barrow also provide daily stewardship for third party assets.
So, what’s the secret to Morecambe’s success?
As well as continued investment in technology, skills and infrastructure, the pioneering spirit that first saw chief petro-physicist John Bains discover the fields 34 years ago lives on in the close-knit community that works at Morecambe today. They are steadfast in their desire to deliver excellent performance, safely.
Leading the charge are Operations Manager, Steve Newton and Morecambe Hub Asset Manager, John Cowie.
Steve, an astro-photography enthusiast, started his career as an electrical tech apprentice over 30 years ago. He joined Spirit Energy in January 2018, and is now responsible for managing on- and offshore operations for Morecambe. Joining Spirit has given him a “rare opportunity” to make a tangible impact on the business’ performance.
Steve said: “How many times in your career can you say that you’ve had the chance to be involved in the type of journey that we’ve been on at Spirit Energy; shaping something small, agile, independent and a bit different? There are things I do day-to-day or week-to-week that I get the sense are truly helping to define the company. It’s rare that you get that sort of opportunity.”
Morecambe too has an important role to play in Spirit’s evolution.
“What we have been doing at Morecambe,” Steve said, “is building a delivery-focused team, with a real sense of ownership and togetherness, that demonstrates how good Spirit Energy is at operating assets. Being an operator is important to the business’ growth aspirations and, if we want to run more assets in future, demonstrating our ability to successfully manage the ones we have today is critical.
“Putting a stick in the ground that shows that we are good at operating and good at getting value out of mature assets is a way for us to unlock future opportunity. One thing’s for sure… if you can do it with older assets, it’s much easier to do it with younger assets. Morecambe is a great benchmark of our capabilities.”
A large proportion of the Morecambe hub was built with a 40-year design life and the potential for a long production period in mind. And despite equipment obsolescence being a common challenge for aging assets, as with many other maturing North Sea projects, technology and improved understanding can help to open doors.
Steve said: “We are at a point where we are chasing the remaining value out of the field, looking at whether we can extend it beyond what we see today and how best to do that.”
That’s where John Cowie comes in. While Steve is the astronomy buff, John is also something of a stargazer, responsible for formulating the long-term strategy for the hub. Morecambe’s Asset Manager since March 2019, he and his team are responsible for identifying and maturing the most viable field development options, before handing them over to Steve and his team to execute.
His focus is twofold. “Our ambition for Morecambe is to maximise value for our stakeholders by extending field life,” said John. “So, our first task is to find a way to drive a material step-change in its performance. To make this happen we need a programme of production adding and cost reducing investments that will work in synergy.
“For example, it might be impossible to justify an investment if you’ve only got a certain number of years’ field life left and your OPEX is too high. But if you can extend field life by reducing your OPEX, then maybe that investment becomes viable.”
The second component of field life extension is grassroots continuous improvement. “It’s not just about big projects – everyone in the Morecambe team has a part to play in improving how we do things. I believe that the people who operate our sites are the ones who know how get them performing at their best. My job is to get the conversation going and then support delivery.”
The breadth of experience John has amassed through his career will undoubtedly help him make the vision a reality. Starting out with a Petroleum Geology degree, his first role was in reservoir engineering, before he took on a range of operations management, commercial and general managerial positions. He said: “I think that these experiences help me to appreciate multiple points of view, before reaching a holistic solution that can be agreed on.
“The way I look at it is, we are an agile new company, so let’s imagine that we have just taken over Morecambe and are asking ourselves what we are going to do with it. Because of its size, even a small increase in recovery factor is quite significant. Extending Morecambe’s life is a challenge our whole team is energised by. It creates benefits for the UK economy, Spirit Energy, our third-party business partners, and for our teammates and local communities. It would be a real shame to abandon the field prematurely because we hadn’t turned over every stone of every opportunity. We are looking at everything through the lens of making it better.”