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UK DATA: Oil output plunges 23% in May in pandemic aftermath

Highlights

Levels tick up from April, June likely heavily impacted

Forties shutdown, 'catch-up' maintenance dent volumes

UK offshore oil production was down 23% on the year in May at 816,000 b/d, with crude output down 21% at 752,000 b/d, according to official data, likely reflecting post-pandemic 'catch-up' maintenance and spending cuts.

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The May oil output level -- which includes natural gas liquids -- was up 5% from April, when UK oil output was around seven-year lows.

For the first five months of 2021 UK oil output was down 18%, averaging 923,000 b/d, with a 17% reduction in crude output to 837,000 b/d.

The UK North Sea produces two of the crude grades in Platts' Dated Brent oil benchmark, used by the industry around the world, however, nearby Norway's crude production is now roughly double UK volumes, at around 2 million b/d.

BEIS said the reduction "follows the pattern of increased maintenance after it was deferred from earlier in 2020" due to pandemic restrictions. However, budget cuts, reduced drilling and technical issues in the West of Shetland area are also thought to have played a role.

The UK's main oil artery, the Forties pipeline, went offline in late-May for a major refurbishment program, with a large impact on production levels through much of June.

New wells drilled at fields such as Buzzard and the Elgin-Franklin complex should help power a recovery in production in the second half of the year, leading independent Harbour Energy said in a market update on June 23.

The North Sea industry continues to see some impact on offshore activity from COVID-19 infections, with Shell's Shearwater redevelopment project recently affected, likely causing a delay completing the work.

The International Energy Agency forecasts UK oil output including NGLs will drop by 130,000 b/d this year to 930,000 b/d, recovering to 960,000 b/d next year.

Note: BEIS output numbers converted at 7.55 barrels/metric ton for crude, 11.5 b/mt for NGLs.