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Oil and gas production in the United Kingdom (U.K.) and its offshore designated area continued to rise through the 1990s and remains at record levels. This paper charts the developments and major new plays of the last decade of the twentieth century and highlights the opportunities and challenges for the twenty-first century.

Through a continuing program of licensing, the U.K. Department of Trade and Industry has successfully maintained industry interest in U.K. exploration and production despite lower oil prices and continuing competition from other oil and gas provinces in the world. A recent licensing round (the seventeenth) that offered acreage in the underexplored basins along the Atlantic margin northwest of Britain attracted many applications, partly because it followed discovery of oil in a deep-water Paleocene fan play there in 1992. Similarly, licensing rounds that focused on the mature North Sea basins have proved to be very encouraging. improved methods in fault seal analysis have had a significant impact on well success rates in the mature basins. Onshore, exploration activity has increased significantly after the seventh and eighth licensing rounds, with a success rate of more than 50% for some plays. The U.K.’s coal-bed methane potential continues to be assessed.

The greatest potential for major new discoveries lies along the Atlantic margin, with significant undiscovered hydrocarbons likely in predominantly Cretaceous and Tertiary reservoirs. Subtle stratigraphic and structural trap plays will continue to have a key role in the mature North Sea provinces. Focus on older, deeper reservoirs will extend the geographic range of successful plays there.

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