Obviously I have a bias here. Well the North Sea is the closest and busiest oil and gas field for me and also where my own transition from a world away from the industry began. Here I will briefly describe the major oil and gas fields, not for old hands but for those that are considering their next move in life.
Onshore exploration in The Netherlands following from the Second World War led to offshore discoveries. The theory was on the geological evidence that the gas and oil that was found on land was a good indicator that more was to be found under the water.
In 1965 the Sea Gem (BP) made the first offshore gas discovery. This was obviously a novice design. Sea Gem was a steel barge adapted for the purpose and though it had living quarters and a helideck it was a far cry from what is used today.
Tragically on December 27th 1965, as it was being prepared for a tow from the site of its historical find, it capsized with 13 crew losing their lives. This led to several changes in safety operations, including the requirement for an Installation Operations Manager (IOM) to be assigned to any British rig or other installation operating offshore.
The IOM is the master of safety on any installation and has to be registered with the British Health and Safety Executive. This same policy has been adopted by many nations who drill offshore.
The Sea Gem had found gas 42 miles off the British coast in the West Sole Field in September but there was much more to find. In December prior to the disaster, Conoco hit the Viking Gas Field for the first time and in 1966 more promising areas were drilled.
So far there is no mention of oil. The rich resource of black gold lay quietly waiting until it gave itself up in December 1969. What took place was an organised, highly mechanised version of the Klondike gold rush. Field after field was established first in Norwegian waters and then in British waters.
Names that are now almost household familiar came into existence, Piper, Ekofisk, Brent and Montrose.
The discovered areas extended at regular intervals almost to the present day and although there are increasing challenges technology moves onward. It has been a mark of the struggle to harness oil and gas from under the North Sea from the start.
As of 2015 there were 184 off shore rigs working the North Sea. Production of oil and gas has actually increased in recent years as new fields come online. There is estimated to be 22 bn barrels of oil still to be brought up and that is best seen as an encouraging figure when you look at the 42 billion barrels that have been recovered since oil was found in the late 1960s.
The problem is as global prices fall so does the investment in technology and in developing new finds. There is said to be 300+ recognised reserves that are not being pursued at this time.
The ironic thing is production had been falling and the death of the North Sea fields had long seemed likely. Just as production increases the price drops. In addition to the lower profit from all the effort to get the resources up to the surface there is another nasty cost looming. As fields tap out what do you do with all the platforms left behind?
Now here is a bit of sunlight for the otherwise overcast offshore worker. It takes people to fulfil environmental obligations. Platforms and pipelines and even onshore installations do not dissolve. So maybe it is worth a touch of silver lining thinking when deciding what sort of oil and gas industry job you are after.
I’ll leave the present with a nice shot of hope. Much of the investment when times were good is now online and doing very nicely particularly when you look at gas production. Recently the Laggan-Toremore field began running a 2 million home supply into Shetland and out to where it was needed. Total , one of the largest oil companies in the world, made much of adapting to the current volatile markets but there was no hesitation about the years ahead.
Total’s boss, Patrick Pouyanne, said, ‘There is a future for the North Sea, no doubt about it.’
He went to say that the industry had to be smarter in getting profit , but then the history of the North Sea fields has always been about being smarter, the weather and geography have seen to that.
At the time of writing many financial pressures threaten any certain prediction for the future of the North Sea offshore industry.
The drop in global oil prices that began in 2014 and what was seen as a blip has now become a deep depression. For quite some time $100 per barrel was the norm, currently prices struggle to get to $50. The reasons for this are many fold and I might do a specific article on it, however, the main thing to consider in the industry is the future for investment.
Forecasts show that the price per barrel may well fall lower. In addition, the North Sea has dwindling stocks that can be recovered easily. Technology might well mean the North Sea oil fields have many more years left, but only if increasingly efficient ways of getting it out of the seabed are developed. Already 1000s of jobs have been lost. So watch this space.
You might this find article useful if you are looking at a medium to long term commitment to a North Sea energy career. Click Here