Conoco wanted to drill an exploration well on a southern North Sea sandbank, an area earmarked for protection under the European Habitats Directive. This was the first ever well to be drilled in an offshore protected area and both operator and regulator were nervous about legal challenges. It was possible that the benign and accepted practice of the discharge of drill cuttings would be challenged. Neither was it clear if a pipeline could be constructed should any gas be found.
Not addressing these concerns might have resulted in the requirement to transport drill cutting to shore and a delay or even cancellation of the project. Onshore cuttings disposal would have caused some environmental impact, led to a significant cost increase and potentially set a precedent for future offshore water based mud drilling. Any gas reserve might not have been made available to the market.
Conoco consulted with key stakeholders and the EnvAid EM3.0™ approach was applied to summarise the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). This addressed the main issue in detail, without burying it among secondary detail, keeping the application concise and accessible and to the point.
Approval for the well and for the disposal of water based mud cuttings onto the sandbank was granted and the project went ahead without delay. Gas was found.