Granite City climbs the league of oil and gas centres

Robot Jeremy is revealed at Offshore Europe in 1985
Robot Jeremy is revealed at Offshore Europe in 1985

NESDA and the local councils under the Grampian banner, had been working to create the infrastructure needed. Office accommodation and industrial estate developments were filling up rapidly and, in 1977 alone, a dozen new office buildings were completed, with NESDA fielding enquiries for a further 200,000sq.ft.

To help put a scale on the boom that was by now gripping Aberdeen, filling its bars, hotels and bed and breakfasts to capacity, some 500 companies had arrived in the city over the period 1970-77.

Meantime, 1977 saw Total bring the Frigg gas field onstream and Occidental complete Claymore. And, the 600,000-tonne concrete gravity base of Chevron’s Ninian Central platform was successfully floated out of its construction dock at Kishorn in Wester Ross.

On the notables exploration front, BP made the first West of Shetland . . . Clair; Texaco located Captain; Shell found Gannet A and Fina identified Otter.

Stott had a lot to think about after the 1977 show. Even though 1979 looked like becoming a success too, he already faced serious competition when the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), organisers of the OTC in Houston, and in co-operation with the Montgomery Group, launched a major rival in 1978 in Earl’s Court, London, repeating in 1980.

With the new Scottish Exhibition Centre (SEC) in Glasgow in the final planning stages, there was a political desire either to attract OE to Glasgow, or to set up a new oil show in the modern halls, with full conference facilities and all the trimmings in Aberdeen.

Grampian Region had tried to get a pot of money together to fund a permanent facility at Bridge of Don, but failed.

“We were looking decidedly shaky without major improvements, so, under fire from all sides, we swallowed hard and set about trying to raise the finance to build a centre ourselves,” wrote Stott.

“We appointed architects, drew up a plan and after a lot of pressure we finally met our target, the investment being provided by the Royal Bank, the GRC, ourselves and – grudgingly – from the Scottish Development Agency, which was, of course, a firm backer of the SEC.”

And so the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre came about; with completion just in time for the 1985 show, which was opened by PM Thatcher.

“At last, we could hold our head up high and know that we could compete with anybody.”

As it turns out, Stott has been proved right. It was a miracle, however, that the AECC was ready for the 1985 Offshore Europe as the show also marked the end of the North Sea boom.

It happens that, earlier that year, last rights were administered over the Benn creation BNOC, which Thatcher had sworn she would kill . . . and did.

It happens too that UK output reached a record 127million tonnes of crude, a performance that was to be sustained through 1986 before decline set in.

But OPEC was in disarray; traditional swing producer Saudi Arabia could not maintain discipline among the cartel’s members. The stage was set for a price crunch; anathema to the North Sea.

Following a series of botched moves over price controls, OPEC basically lit the fuse that blew oil markets apart and resulted in the crash of ’86.

Oil, previously fetching $30-plus, plummeted and the spot price dipped to less than $9 during the summer of ’76.

Estimates vary as to the real North Sea impact, but the generally accepted figures are that 6,000 out of more than 28,000 offshore jobs disappeared, plus vastly more onshore.

Oil companies battened down the hatches and collectively slashed exploration budgets by around 30% to not much over £1billion; and capital spending was curtailed £500,000 to £2.3billion.

The impact on Aberdeen and other major centres like Houston was horrific, as it was on Offshore Europe and other major oil shows for years to come. But the cities and the shows survived; as they did the late 1990s crash.

Aberdeen is today riding a wave of prosperity, fuelled in part by the North Sea projects “Indian Summer”. And Offshore Europe 2013 is on track to set new records. Not bad for 40 really.

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