North Sea - UK Sector
Dawning of the Oil Era
Following finds of gas onshore in Holland and Eastern England in the 1950s it was noticed that the geological rock content was similar. When a huge gas find was made at Ten Boer near Groningen, Netherlands it set the stage for the North Sea Oil and Gas exploration. The Groningen Field was developed further and found to be a colossal discovery. Seizing on the theory that, in between the two countries in the North Sea more oil and gas might exist survey ships were sent forth. By the mid 1960s North Sea oil discoverys were being made offshore.
The oil finds in the North Sea were an economic blessing, indeed and could not of come sooner. The Middle-Eastern oil crisis that hit other countries hard was negated somewhat in the UK and Norway. So as government ministers held the 'black gold' (crude oil) aloft triumphantly, Aberdeen became the rising star of Scotlands cities as it was declared the oil capital of Europe. More than a few denizens became (and continue to become) wealthy on the influx of trade from the oil industry. In a short space of time its airport expanded to accommodated two heliports and upgrading to deal with the increased demand. Shetlands and the Orkneys too reaped the benefits as Oil and Gas Terminals began to spring up there. At Skatster a purpose built airport was constructed, acting as a way station for oil workers travelling to and from the northern North Sea Platforms. South of the border in England the gas discoveries in the southern North Sea sector saw a similar, albeit lesser effect on Great Yarmouth and surrounding areas.
Piper Alpha Disaster
Apart from some minor strike action (soon resolved) and average oil prices all seemed well in the North Sea during the 1980s. That was until 6th July, 1988 when disaster struck the Piper Alpha platform. The causes and reasons were like many tragedies; a combination of faults leading to the terrible a chain reaction of events. At the end of a busy dayshift an engineer going off-shift failed to pass on important information verbally, instead he left the work permit (detailing that a compressor was not to be activated) on the desk next to control room supervisor who absently filed it away.
There had been an earlier oil platform disaster in 1980 when a Norwegian platform collapsed into the sea, but this was a structural issue whereas the Piper Alpha disaster resulted from a safety lapse, no matter how small the root. In the weeks that followed Royal Navy Demolition Divers detonated shaped charges on the subsea jacket of the Piper Alpha, thus allowing the North Sea to claim it.
The North Sea Matures
Through the 1990s The North Sea sectors production increased but new discoveries fell. The safety factors from the Cullen Report saw fruition having been taken on board wholeheartedly by UKOOA (United Kingdom Offshore Oil Association). Reaching a peak in 1999 oil is now beginning to slacken off slightly. Production fell in 2004 by 10% and in 2005 to nearly 13%. The trend towards using FPSOs or Drill Ships took precedence from the old 'Hub and Satellite Platforms' that had led the way previously. Many now believe that the North Seas oil and gas has reached the half-way point of its life and production may fall by even greater margins. That said the North Sea still holds most of Europe's oil reserves and is one of the largest non-OPEC producing regions of the world. Indeed the intriguing nature of 'oil reservoir recovery' is now proving worthwhile. As when some newly leased platforms are re-activated and oil fields previously abandoned due to lack of oil have 'recovered' to levels worth extraction it presents a new avenue of approach. One company 'Talisman Energy' specialises in optimising extraction from such areas and has had very promising results from many of its projects. North Sea Safety continues to climb to new heights as the lofty goal of 'An Accident Free North Sea' is strived for and gains ground. The 21st Century see's the mighty three-platform Buzzard Installation is now the newest platform operating with further exploration from the oil companies underway. Speculation is rife on the future of the North Sea, what lies in wait can only be guessed at.