A former energy minister has accused the governments of Scotland and the UK of overseeing a “dismal failure of energy policy” related to the Western Isles. Brian Wilson said the Western Isles have the highest electricity tariffs in the UK and that 70% of households in the area suffer from fuel poverty, which is worse than anywhere else in Western Europe. That record is particularly galling given that the Western Isles are often said to have the greatest potential for the generation of renewable energy in Europe, according to Mr Wilson, energy minister from 2001-03.
Oil and gas firms must show they are capable of doing more than just cutting costs if they are to secure the North Sea’s long-term future and save jobs, a top UK energy industry official said. The sector is in the grip of a downturn brought on by low oil prices and spiralling operating costs – a self-made crisis, in the words of many industry leaders. About 4,000 jobs have been lost in the UK, according to media reports, and only five exploration wells have been drilled in British waters so far this year – way below what the basin can support when business is booming.
Oil and gas companies are snapping up exhibition stands at this year’s Offshore Europe (OE) conference in Aberdeen as quickly as ever, despite the current downturn in the energy sector. OE’s spiritual sister on this side of the Atlantic – ONS Norway – was cancelled and just last week BP said it would not exhibit at the biennial OE conference this September, with the low oil price citied as a factor in both decisions. Concerns that OE could be a quiet affair this year appear to be unfounded, however.
The North Sea oil and gas industry raised a toast to its champions of safety at an awards ceremony in Aberdeen yesterday. Six awards were handed out at this year’s UK Oil and Gas Industry Safety Awards to people and companies who went the extra mile to keep employees out of harm’s way. Vic Retalic, HSE and security manager of Premier Oil, was recognised for his creative approach to communicating health and safety messages, which includes the use of cartoons. He took the Safety Leadership Award home from the event at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC).
A combination of cost-cutting measures by oil and gas firms and Opec’s decision not to curb output is laying the foundations for the next crude price surge, former BP chief executive Tony Hayward said yesterday. A slump in crude prices from summer highs of more than $100 per barrel to less than $50 at the turn of the year has made life miserable for energy companies, many of which have had to mothball projects and offload staff. The price drop was caused by the build-up of a massive supply glut, which was brought about by a stand-off between Opec and US shale producers. Opec was bent on pumping out so much oil that the price would be driven down to the point that US shale producers would no longer be able to make a profit, forcing them to shut down. Mr Hayward said the tactic is paying off and that Opec, whose leading nations can produce oil cheaply, will ultimately regain market share.
Remote-operated vehicle firm Rovop unveiled its £4.2million headquarters in Aberdeen yesterday and announced that it had received £10million of new investment. The cash injection from the Business Growth Fund (BGF) – a company with £2.5billion of capital and the backing by five UK high-street banks – will be used to help Rovop swell its fleet of ROVs to 50 from 15 over the next three years. Rovop chief executive Steven Gray said the funding boost had come at a “particularly opportune time”, as the company looks to capitalise on the oil price downturn by providing operators with more cost-effective subsea services.
A London infrastructure investment firm has made its first foray into hydro-electricity with the acquisition of a Scottish renewable-energy company for an undisclosed fee. Green Highland Renewables (GHR), which has offices in Perth and Dingwall, has been developing run-of-river hydro schemes since 2007, gaining planning consent for more than 50 hydro schemes with approximately 40 megawatts (MW) capacity. Under the ownership of Ancala Partners, GHR will continue to expand its development portfolio and operational assets, a spokesman for the company said yesterday. GHR will also retain its name and management team, he added. Ancala takes over from shareholders including technology investor Scottish Equity Partners and Scottish Enterprise, investment arm of the Scottish Investment Bank. Records published by Companies House show GHR development director Alexander Reading and chief operating officer Ian Cartwright held shares in the company as of February 2015. GHR founder Alistair Riddell and former chairman Ian Wotherspoon were also listed as shareholders.
Shell’s plans to cast off a number of North Sea assets will not be affected by its proposed £47billion “mega-merger” with BG Group, a Scottish oil and gas consultancy has said. The Anglo-Dutch oil giant last week said it plans to buy Reading-based BG in a deal that would be the second biggest deal of its kind after Exxon and Mobil’s £51billion tie-up in 1998. Analysts have said that the announcement could spark a rash of similar deals as companies look to consolidate against the backdrop of a low oil price environment.
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. That’s the lesson to be learned by anyone who thought Gatwick was about to become the new oil capital of the world. London-listed UK Oil & Gas Investments (UKOG) caused a commotion last week, when it said an oil find in the Weald Basin of southern England was “the largest onshore” discovery in the UK in the last 30 years. UKOG chief executive Stephen Sanderson said at the time: “Based on what we’ve found here, we’re looking at between 50 and 100 billion barrels of oil in place in the ground.
Two north-east firms have managed to tie up new contracts with oil and gas industry clients, making light of a downturn in the sector that has been brought on by low crude prices. Offshore health and safety training provider Survivex yesterday announced that it had signed a contract worth more than £500,000 a year with US driller Hercules Offshore. Aleron Subsea, meanwhile, said it would rent out remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) to two unidentified Indonesian companies in deals totalling £2million.
Aberdeen-based technology group Cortez Subsea has boosted its chances of making a splash in the Malaysian oil and gas market by teaming up with a local engineering firm. The partnership with Oceancare Corporation (OCBS) essentially gives Cortez a base in the region from which it can sell its products, a move that will cut delivery times for potential clients. The pact could also help Cortez take advantage of a scheme for developing indigenous oil and gas manufacturing businesses in Malaysia. Petronas, an energy firm owned by the Malaysian Government, admitted 79 businesses to its so-called Vendor Development Program (VDP) between 2004 and late 2013, awarding contracts worth a total of more than £1.4billion.
A north east firm is licking its lips at the prospect of growing demand from oil and gas firms after receiving a “number of inquiries” for ultrasound technology currently being used by Italian sports car maker Lamborghini. Aberdeen-based RSL is a supplier of equipment designed to check the strength of materials without damaging them, a technique known in the trade as non-destructive testing (NDT). Last year, the company agreed to become a UK reseller of DolphiCam, a type of camera that can assess impact damage on carbon-fibre-reinforced plastics by creating 2D and 3D images through the material. Made by Norway’s DolphiTech, the camera is currently being used by Lamborghini and aerospace giant Boeing, and RSL thinks the technology can be applied in the subsea sector.
The investment company set up by oil pioneer Algy Cluff has been handed a third licence to tap coal reserves “stranded” under the Firth of Forth. Cluff Natural Resources (CNR) has ploughed ahead with plans to develop Britain’s first offshore Underground Coal Gasification (UCG) project in recent times, despite opposition from environmentalists, who feel the methods used are unsafe and require further testing. UCG involves pumping oxygen and water through a borehole to turn the fossil fuel into synthetic gas, which can then be converted into hydrogen, methane, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. The award of the Frances licence in the firth takes CNR’s portfolio of UK-based UCG assets to nine, covering 266,000sq miles.
Global oilfield service company Forum Energy Technologies yesterday said it has made 12 employees redundant following the closure of its workshop in Lybster, Caithness. The Houston-based firm’s statement adds it to an ever-growing list of oil and gas companies that have been forced to lay off staff due to low crude prices and rising costs. Last week oil giant Shell said it would make 250 of its North Sea workforce redundant, while Taqa revealed plans to reduce its headcount by 100. BP earlier announced it would cut 200 full-time onshore positions and 100 contractor roles from its 4,000-strong North Sea workforce. Forum yesterday said that the company’s operations at Lybster, which focused on the manufacture of oil well drilling equipment, will be shifted to one of its other facilities.
A Banchory-based engineering firm is making its work in the renewable energy industry pay after diversifying from the oil and gas sector. Ecosse Subsea Systems (ESS) said more than half of its projects are now in renewables. Yesterday it confirmed that the decision to branch out into the sector has played a big part in tripling the firm’s profits. ESS, which performs seabed clearance, trenching and cable laying work, said revenues hit £15million for the year ending March 2014, an 88% increase, while operating profits went up to £3.4million from £1million.
An energy industry safety group has moved to allay fears that offshore workers could be left stranded at sea if they don’t comply with new rules for helicopter flights. In line with size restrictions that come into force today, passengers need to have had their shoulders measured so that they can be assigned a seat next to a window large enough for them to crawl through in the event of a ditching. On Monday, an Aberdeen-based workplace healthcare provider, RPS, said workers whose measurements have not been recorded will be allocated an “extra broad” seat by default. It went on to warn that unmeasured workers might find that there is not enough room for them, as there are a limited number of XBR seats on a helicopter.
A new centre that was created to speed up the development of technologies for the oil and gas industry has completed its first collaborative project, a year after receiving approval for start-up funding. The Oil & Gas Innovation Centre (Ogic) acts as a matchmaker between Scottish Universities and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) who are looking to cut costs using innovative technology. A year ago the Scottish Funding Council approved funding of £10.6million for Ogic, which formally opened for business in Aberdeen in November. One hundred technology firms have asked Ogic for support since then — 18 projects are now being discussed, while four have been approved.
The UK’s new energy industry regulator, the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA), yesterday insisted it was ready to become an executive agency on April 1 as planned. Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) chief executive Malcolm Webb had earlier suggested the fledgling watchdog had decided to delay the move, which will let it start fulfilling its role formally, for some months. The establishment of a strong and well-funded regulator was one of the recommendations made in last year’s Wood Review, which made a series of proposals aimed at maximising the recovery of UK fossil fuels.