The Edinburgh Geologist
Issue no 39

The Millennium Atlas: Petroleum geology of
the central and northern North Sea
- a major new publication -

 by Dan Evans, Colin Graham and Heather Stewart

As you read this in the Autumn 2002 edition of the Edinburgh Geologist, you may be somewhat surprised at the title of this article. You probably think that most things related to the Millennium are by now things of the past, are completed, or are perhaps even falling into disrepair. But the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff remains a place where visiting rugby teams are treated with excessive courtesy, and the end of 2002 will see the publication of the Millennium Atlas.

The Atlas describes the geology for the UK (largely Scottish if you will), Norwegian and Danish sectors of the central and northern North Sea (see map), with a slant towards the petroleum aspects. This is the first attempt to describe the geology of the North Sea Basin across these national boundaries, and is a consequence of the co-operation of the Geological Society of London, the Norwegian Petroleum Society and the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland (GEUS). These organisations together formed the not-for-profit Millennium Atlas Company Limited (MACL) with the sole purpose of producing and distributing the Atlas.

Make no mistake, it will be a big book in full-colour A2 format with about 400 pages, so that it will weigh about 9 kilograms. For those not feeling too strong it will also be available in CD-Rom format. It will have 458 Figures (many of them comprising multiple diagrams, and we haven't counted them all yet), a list of about 1600 references, and each chapter will have an appropriate full-page frontispiece image. An example of a diagram is shown in Figure 2, but remember that full colour will be used throughout the Atlas itself.

The atlas will be printed in Haddington by Scotprint; the large size of the Atlas means that the pages will have to be hand-stitched as machines would not be able to cope. We understand that the book will be produced at a rate of 5 copies per day. It has been suggested that it is not so much a coffee-table book, but with the addition of four legs could be made into a coffee table! 

The idea for producing such an Atlas came from Paul Bathurst of Exploration Geosciences Limited, a small consultancy company that has worked extensively in western Canada where they had found a major atlas to be invaluable for their oil-exploration work. Paul considered that the production of a comparable atlas would be a good way to mark the Millennium at a time when the North Sea had become a mature oil province (the Atlas specifically excludes the southern North Sea gas province). However, Paul might perhaps have been a little more circumspect in calling it the Millennium Atlas given that the Canadian atlas took seven years to complete! In 1997 he began to raise sponsorship for the production of such an atlas, and the Atlas now has full sponsorship from 35 oil companies (even if some of them no longer exist due to several recent mergers) and lesser support from a number of others. 

At that time, the oil industry was flourishing, so that Paul was able to raise sponsorship pledges from a large number of oil companies, and also their commitment to helping produce chapters for the Atlas. It was then evident that the project was feasible, and it was at this stage in 1998 that MACL was set up, and Andrew Armour, at that time Exploration Director of Enterprise Oil, became the Chairman of the Company and a driving force for the project. Subsequently the main contracts were let to Exploration Geosciences Limited for Project Management, the British Geological Survey (BGS) for Editing, and Lovell Johns Limited for Book Production. 

After an Introductory chapter, the Atlas has three structural chapters that outline the tectonic evolution of the broad north-east Atlantic region, describe the deep crust beneath the North Sea, and provide the structural framework for the Atlas area. There then follow 12 stratigraphic chapters before chapters on petroleum generation and formation waters. The Atlas ends with chapters on exploration history and the resources of the basin, followed by the extensive list of references, a glossary to help those not familiar with some terminology, and an index. 

The project was set up so that individual companies or small groups of companies were responsible for writing chapters and producing the associated illustrative material. In some cases this work was contracted out or other experienced groups of workers were brought in to help; in fact BGS were contracted by Murphy Petroleum to write the Oligocene to Holocene chapter, and the lead author was none other than your very own Editor of this estimable booklet. It was well into 1999 before all chapters had been properly allocated authors, and the progress of the project was not helped by the slump in oil price that resulted in many oil-industry geologists, including authors of the Atlas, losing their jobs. Each chapter was provided with a broad outline framework and a standard set of stratigraphic tops for each stratigraphic chapter.

A few facts and statistics that emerge for the Millennium Atlas area are:

The first well to find oil was in the Danish sector in 1966, in chalk.

The first UK oil discovery was in 1969 at what is now the Gannet Field, but it was not economic to extract oil from that well until over 30 years later in 1997.

The deepest well drilled is to 6085 m.

The total of recoverable hydrocarbon reserves is 12,500 million m3 of which 43% have been produced.

About 40% of the total reserves are in Lower and Middle Jurassic reservoirs.

Statfjord is the largest oilfield, and Troll the largest gas field.

A total of 92 authors and a further 62 contributors have produced the chapters, and a great deal of work has also been done by the draughting personnel supporting these groups. Each chapter has been externally refereed, involving a total of 60 referees. After resubmitting the chapter following refereeing (some chapters were reviewed twice), the editing work really began. Although there was a great deal of overlap, Dan dealt mainly with the text and Colin with the diagrams; Heather joined at a later stage to finalise work on the references, glossary and related work. After the diagrams had been marked up by Colin, they were sent to the wonderfully named draughting company 'Could-you-Just?' where Cathy Hickey co-ordinated the standardisation of all the figures. 

It has been an objective of the Atlas to maximise the overall consistency of approach by all the authors; a difficult task given the number involved and the ranges of data from which they would be working. To help with this, a number of workshops were held for the authors, the most notable of which was a 3-day residential meeting at the wonderful field-centre premises of Chris Cornford's Integrated Geochemical Investigations at Bideford in Devon where a good time was had by all. 

Producing the Atlas has been a long, if most rewarding, haul, and as we write this in late August, there is a very intense period of work to ensure that the material is delivered to the printers on time to ensure that copies are avaialble for a series of launches of the Atlas in early November. And the last chapter was not even completed by the authors until the end of July! The finalising of the layouts is being worked on by Jon Gammage at Lovell Johns' offices near Witney. We are greatly looking forward to a little trip to Haddington to see the presses rolling...

Oh, there is one other small point; you will want to know how much it costs and how you can buy it. It is published by the Geological Society of London, and will cost you a mere £199, or £149 if you are a member of that, or a related society. We believe that the CD-Rom, being produced by Lynx, will be similarly priced.

We very much hope that you will like it.

Bibliographic reference:

Evans, D., Graham, C., Armour, A., & Bathurst, P. (editors and co-ordinators) 2003. The Millennium Atlas: petroleum geology of the central and northern North Sea. The Geological Society of London.

Map of Atlas area

The area covered by the Millennium Atlas is shaded.
The Atlas does not cover the southern North Sea and the
area west of Shetland is also excluded

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A figure from the Millennium Atlas 

This is an image of one specific horizon in the Cenozoic at a depth of several hundred metres below the sea bed. It has been produced through the use of 3D-seismic data, that is individual seismic profiles collected on a very close grid such that a 'cube' of data is collected. Once a horizon has been picked on the individual  profiles, a variety of images of that horizon can be computer-generated. Seismic data and recent improvements in its acquisition, processing and interpretation techniques, have been very important to the exploration and production history of the North Sea. This image shows the pattern of polygonal faults in a mudstone interval.

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Dan Evans has worked in offshore geology for over 30 years, following up a PhD study by joining the marine group at BGS. He has produced several offshore maps and was lead editor of the UK Offshore regional reports. He has been involved in the Millennium Atlas project from the start.

Colin Graham was brought into the Atlas project to act as diagrams editor once the authors had begun to produce their chapters. For this, his knowledge of IT, added to his considerable marine geological experience, has been invaluable.

Heather Stewart joined BGS less than a year ago after graduating from Glasgow, and has been thrown in at the deep end (including 1600 references!) in helping with the Atlas.

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