For the first time since 1935, no onshore oil or gas wells were drilled in a calendar year, according to 2021 data from the industry regulator.
Wells were drilled every year throughout the Spanish flu pandemic (1918-1920) and the second world war.
But according to the Oil & Gas Authority’s public wellbore search, no onshore wells were spudded between 1 January 2021 and 31 December 2021. This is an 86-year-low for the onshore industry.
In the same period, 65 wells were drilled offshore in the UK, the database confirms.
The number of onshore wells drilled each year has fallen since 2014, the last time it was in double figures.
Previous analysis by DrillOrDrop showed that onshore drilling reached a 70-year low in 2020. Just two wells were drilled, both at Rathlin Energy’s West Newton-B site. One of these wells missed its target and the second, a sidetrack, reported formation damage following testing.
In 2019, we reported that five wells were spudded, two of which were at one site (Horse Hill). The others were at Misson in Nottinghamshire, Biscathorpe in Lincolnshire and West Newton-A in East Yorkshire.
The number was even lower in 2018, when wells were drilled at just three sites (Preston New Road in Lancashire, Stockbridge in Hampshire and Tinker Lane in Nottinghamshire).
In 2017, six wells were drilled – at Brockham in Surrey, Broadford Bridge (2) and Lidsey in West Sussex, and Preston New Road (2). But this was still a 50-year-low for the onshore industry.
What is deterring UK onshore drilling?
Operators have blamed various factors for the lack of drilling in recent years. These have included low oil prices and falling demand, contractual disputes, delays with equipment, a moratorium on fracking in England, planning refusals and covid-19.
The fracking moratorium, in force since November 2019, remains in place.
There are currently no planning permissions for shale gas drilling in England. Cuadrilla’s consent for shale gas drilling at Preston New Road has expired. IGas is preparing to give up the Misson site in Nottinghamshire, which had consent for a second well, but permission lapsed and an extension was refused.
The average price of Brent crude, the benchmark for UK oil, dropped to $41.96 in 2020, the first year of the covid-19 pandemic. That year, onshore companies, such as IGas and Egdon, reported falls in revenue as sites were shut in and production cut.
But in 2021, demand for hydrocarbons increased and the average oil price rose to $70.4 a barrel, exceeding $83 dollars a barrel in October.
At prices like these, there were profits to be made for producing sites, with operating costs around $33 per barrel of oil equivalent (IGas, 2020).
In August 2021, Egdon Resources and Union Jack both said production from the Wressle well in North Lincolnshire would transform their businesses at current oil prices.
Several wells planned for 2021 were not drilled, for various reasons.
Horse Hill, UKOG: Two planned for 2021 were put on hold until drilling was completed in the company’s licences in Turkey.
North Kelsey, Egdon: A well planned for 2021 was not drilled. The company blamed covid-19 and delays in materials and contractors. A new planning application for this site has been submitted
West Newton-B, Rathlin Energy: Another well at this site was planned for the second half of 2021 but was not drilled. Planning permission for this site is due to expire in 2022.