Five questions answered on BP’s £330m Atlantic offshore oil investment

Appraisal drilling.

BP, along with a consortium of other oil and gas companies, announced today it will invest £330m in appraisal drilling in the Atlantic Ocean.

How many appraisal wells will they be drilling?

They will be drilling five appraisal wells over the next two years in the Clair field, located in the Atlantic Ocean, west of Shetland.

The field was originally discovered 35 years ago but initial drilling didn’t start until 2005.

Who are the other members of the consortium?

The consortium is made up of BP Shell, ConocoPhillips and Chevron.

Why have the consortium chosen now to expand drilling in the field?

Clair is expected to hold eight billion barrels of oil, but up until now it has been technically difficult to drill. The government’s new oil and gas strategy, which was unveiled recently, may also have encouraged further production.

The strategy includes the government working with the industry to tackle a looming skills shortage, partly by re-training military leavers to fill some of the 15,000 new jobs anticipated to be created in the oil and gas sector over the next five years. The government will also encourage more technological advancement through research and development, as well as commitment to a new £7m Neptune offshore technology centre of excellence in Newcastle.

What are the consortium’s future plans for the Clair field?

Depending on these initial drilling results up to 12 further wells could be drilled.

It is hoped the appraisal programme will lead to a third phase, taking production well beyond 2050. Any new oil would continue to be pumped by pipeline to Shetland.

Analysts are predicting that the Atlantic could over take the North Sea as the UK's biggest oil-producing region within 20 years.

What has the Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey said about this latest development in the Atlantic?

Davey said in a press release:

“This announcement by BP of a two year appraisal programme for the Greater Clair area West of Shetland is excellent news. It shows the industry’s commitment to maximise the potential in this area, which could hold up to 17 per cent of our oil and gas reserves. 

“Greater Clair proves there is still a long future for oil and gas production in the North Sea and will give confidence to new recruits that the industry offers a career for life.”

Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.