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London — The UK's key oil artery, the 600,000 b/d Forties pipeline is now "fully operational" and force majeure on deliveries of North Sea benchmark Forties crude has been lifted, the pipeline operator Ineos said Saturday.

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Ineos had previously said that the pipeline was set to resume normal flows of around 450,000 b/d next week but in a statement over the weekend, the company said that the system is "fully operational."

"All restrictions on the flow of oil and gas from platforms feeding into the pipeline system have been lifted and virtually all platforms are now on line," the statement said.

Forties accounts for about 40% of UK North Sea crude, and is one of the blends that make up the Dated Brent pricing benchmark, which is used as a reference for measuring the value of crude oil around the world.



The company also confirmed that the force majeure on Forties crude deliveries which had been in place since December 13 was lifted on Saturday with loadings from Hound Point terminal set to resume over the weekend.

Ineos, which only recently acquired the pipeline system from BP, discovered a hairline fracture in the line on December 8, leading to a complete halt in crude flows through the line from December 11 and shutting-in of all the fields feeding in to the system.

The company also said that the Kinneil gas processing plant, which feeds in to the pipeline, had restarted and "all products are in specification."

Flows from the pipeline resumed on December 25 with Ineos pressure testing the line, allowing a small number of customers to send oil and gas through the pipeline at reduced rates.


CARGO DEFERRALS


The shutdown of this key artery had resulted in several deferrals of crude cargoes.

The original January loading program was revised when 13 cargoes were deferred into the month from December, while 12 cargoes were deferred from January into February.

But trading sources noted that there were no further deferrals in the past week.

The first cargo scheduled in the revised December program was F1208 of Eni equity, scheduled for December 28-30, which is currently with Petroineos according to S&P Global Platts tracking data and is likely to feed in to the Grangemouth refinery.

The next scheduled cargo was F1209 of ConocoPhillips equity, scheduled to load December 29-31.

The ageing Forties pipeline has a capacity of around 600,000 b/d and throughput of the key grade averaged 445,000 b/d last year.

This grade normally loads on 600,000-barrel cargoes from the Hound Point terminal operated by Ineos.


FIELDS RESTARTING


But with the system now fully operational, production from the more than 80 fields that contribute to Forties Blend was restarting.

The Buzzard field operated by CNOOC's Nexen, which makes up about 31% of the total crude stream, restarted production.

"Now that repairs have been completed on the Forties pipeline, Nexen has safely restarted production on both our Buzzard and Scott platforms," a CNOOC spokeswoman said in a statement.

Other key oil fields transporting crude via the Forties pipeline, including Shell's Shearwater and Nelson platforms, Apache's Forties field, and the Chevron-operated Alder field, were also now online, according to the companies.

Forties Blend is a medium sour crude with a sulfur content and API gravity that vary according to the percentage of Buzzard within the blend.

--Eklavya Gupte, eklavya.gupte@spglobal.com
--Edited by Maurice Geller, maurice.geller@spglobal.com