Exploration operatorship

Companies wishing to become an operator for exploration activities on the UK Continental Shelf require approval from the OGA.

In most cases, companies seeking to become an exploration operator should apply for approval through the UK Energy Portal (PEARS) process.

There are two exceptions; when an exploration operator is appointed as part of new production licence award or when operatorship is approved as part of a field development plan.

Onshore operator approval is processed via email.

Approval covers a specific piece of acreage (in the case of production operatorship, a specified field). It relates only to the operator’s competence and confers no permission to drill; for example, a separate well consent is required for each well.

Offshore operators

An exploration operator is the company that carries out the various exploration operations under a production licence on behalf of the licence group. For these purposes ‘exploration’ means the drilling of exploration and/or appraisal wells. It does not include production of hydrocarbons or the drilling of development wells. As part of the Innovate Licence and as per the Stewardship Expectation ‘SE2 Delivering Exploration and Appraisal Work Programme’, Licensees are expected to appoint and have approved by the OGA, a licence ‘Exploration’ operator when transitioning into Phase C of the Initial Term (submitted via the Energy Portal).  

Usually the operator is one of the companies on the licence. The licence group will select the operator, but the model clauses attached to each licence provide that the choice must be approved by the OGA. To drill development wells or develop/produce a field, a company needs to be approved as a production operator.

NOTE in addition, for all Exploration well operations, the Offshore Petroleum Licensing (Offshore Safety Directive) Regulations 2015 (OSDR) requires Licensees to appoint an OSDR Well and Installation operator. Further information on this and the process can be found here.

Requirements for exploration operators

In considering any request for exploration operatorship, we will look at the governance structure, systems and technical competence of the company to plan and perform offshore operations, and its capacity to ensure environmental protection. Detailed requirements and checklist (MS Word).

Since the Offshore Safety Act 1992, health and safety has not been a factor the OGA checks when considering the competence of an operator; it is now wholly the responsibility of the Health and Safety Executive.