Professor Alex Kemp writes:
The OilCity initiative is highly commendable for several reasons. It provides a unique opportunity for people who have been involved in the North Sea oil and gas industry to record their memories and reflections.
The exploitation of North Sea oil and gas has arguably been the most important development in the UK economy since the end of the Second World War. Oil revenues transformed the UK’s balance of trade from the later 1970’s onwards. The tax revenues in the first half of the 1980’s made a notable contribution to overall Government revenues and to the reduction of the public sector borrowing requirement.
But all this was achieved only through a major human effort by the many people employed throughout the supply chain in the sector. Many innovations were made in the design, construction and operation of platforms and other facilities required to produce the oil and gas. The operating environment was harsh and the human effort and cost was very substantial.
It is important that all this be recorded; our descendents should be well-informed of the great achievement and financial and human costs required to secure the oil and gas for the nation.
The lessons of the history of North Sea oil also give pointers to its future. On many occasions the lifetime of the province has been greatly underestimated. In fact as late as 1989 it was considered by many observers that oil production would continue the downward trend from its peak in 1985. A new peak in 1999 was certainly not foreseen. While the long-term trend is now downward the pace of decline is by no means clear.
New technology and human ingenuity can certainly moderate the decline rate and extend the life of the province to 2040 or even beyond. Exciting careers are still available for young people extending over many disciplines.
It is also noteworthy that experience gained in North Sea conditions is highly appropriate for use in other petroleum provinces. Aberdeen is already an established centre of expertise with growing involvement in the petroleum sectors of countries around the world. There is no reason why this should not continue.
Professor Alex Kemp
Professor of Petroleum Economics
University of Aberdeen
Official Historian North Sea Oil and Gas
John Holt writes:
Open for Debate?
The British oil and gas industry has now reached a sufficient stage of maturity to warrant serious academic historical research. To those of us who have been involved with the industry for more years than we would care to recount (in my own case almost my entire adult life), the concept of being of historical value is somewhat of a double-edged sword. This is not to deny the importance and value of the work that has been done over the years. The key here is to look to open up the debate on the history of the industry while we still can, with too many British industries now gone and therefore, the opportunity to retain the vibrancy and knowledge of many of the walking libraries of experience that built and shaped them is gone. The offshore oil and gas industry has had some wonderful representative material written on it over the years. Yet, what representation we do get in the public domain remains resolutely idealised.
The majority of the much-valued academic historiographical work on the industry, and the offshore workforce, follows the set pattern established by Carson as far back as 1982. Carson’s The Other Price of Britain’s Oil should remain a key text for those wishing to know about what may be an uncomfortable aspect of the roots of the industry. Other indispensible key academic works such as those by Wybrow; Kemp; Woolfson, Foster and Beck; Patterson; Whyte; Hart; Gall and of course the work by Bill Mackie cited here on OilCity – this list is not exhaustive and does not include the much valued work by the team led by Professor Rhona Flin at University of Aberdeen. The Lives in the Oil Industry Project undertaken by Terry Brotherstone and Hugo Manson at University of Aberdeen has created one of the key foundationary oral history archives on the industry in the world. The Capturing the Energy Project is taking the overall retention of the industry to a new professional level. The keystone amongst all of these projects is of course this, the OilCity portal, which allows us all the opportunity to recount, to recognise and debate the history of the industry.
From a purely historical perspective, we have now reached a significant point of maturity. The British offshore industry is approaching its first fifty years and we must begin to respond to our history with the seriousness it deserves. We must begin to assess the industrial value of the industry, and perhaps more poignantly the people of the industry, with the dignity they deserve, from all aspects of the industry.
In this, I have begun my own small contribution. As a now ex-offshore worker with nearly twenty years experience, I am now a PhD student researching and writing about the historical development of the offshore health and safety culture up until the Piper Alpha disaster. The research will look at industry response to the introduction of legislation, of regulation, but also the research aims to recognise the work done by onshore health and safety teams, offshore safety reps, and also the influence of medics offshore. While understanding the limitations to the research it also aims to open a wider debate on this and other aspects of the industry. As is the case these projects take time to come to fruition, however there is now the opportunity to assess the early development of offshore health and safety and any help and advice in this area would be gratefully received.
Ex-offshore worker and currently a PhD Student researching the HSE culture of the industry up to 1988.