December 21, 2017 / 9:50 AM / 10 months ago

UK's Forties North Sea oil pipeline due to restart in early Jan

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Forties oil and gas pipeline, one of the biggest in the North Sea, should be repaired around Christmas, its operator Ineos said on Thursday, the earlier end of a timeframe the company gave to carry out the work.

The announcement pushed oil prices lower. Forties plays an important role in the global market as it is the biggest of the five North Sea crudes underpinning Brent, a benchmark for oil trading in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The system, which carries about 450,000 barrels per day of crude to Britain, along with a third of the Britain’s total offshore natural gas output, was shut after a crack was found.

“Work on the pipeline is progressing well and based on current estimates Ineos is planning to complete the repair around Christmas,” it said in a statement.

That would the earlier end of the expected timescale. Ineos, which has been working around the clock to carry out the work, had said repairs would take two to four weeks from Dec. 11, the date of the shutdown.

“Initially a small number of customers will send oil and gas through the pipeline at low rates as part of a coordinated plan that allows Ineos to carefully control the flow into the system,” the company said.

“Based on current estimates the company expects to bring the pipeline progressively back to normal rates early in the new year,” Ineos said.

Oil prices, which rallied in the wake of the outage above $65 a barrel last week, their highest level since mid-2015, fell on Thursday. Brent crude was down 10 cents a barrel to $64.46 at 1158 GMT.

Ineos last week declared force majeure, which suspends its contractual obligations due to circumstances beyond its control, on Forties deliveries. This is believed to be the first force majeure on a major North Sea production stream in decades.

Force majeure remains in place and there isn’t yet a timeframe on when to remove it.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate on that,” said Richard Longden, an Ineos spokesman. “We have a lot to do and as we work through that, we’ll be looking at (force majeure) and how we take that forward.”

The privately-owned chemicals company based in Switzerland bought the pipeline system from BP in late October.

Editing by Jason Neely and Edmund Blair

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