Subsea2017 round up – Hope emerges from depth of oil price abyss

Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK
Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK

Subsea companies showed significant signs of recovery after emerging from the depths of the two year oil price crisis to showcase at Europe’s largest underwater services event.

This year’s theme at Subsea Expo was ‘adapting to the new norm’, a direct nod to the difficulties the industry has faced worldwide in the last two years.

With an extra $20 on the price of a barrel of Brent Crude compared to this time last year, the buzzword round the AECC’s GE Oil and Gas Arena was “positive”.

And the good vibrations were visible over the three day extravaganza, which is held in Aberdeen and is now in its 12th year.

Around 150 exhibitors touted their wares at the exhibition and conference, including a number of new faces.

The feel good feeling came against a backdrop of a survey that suggested there could be a UK subsea exports boom in 2017.

Expo organiser and leading industry body Subsea UK found 83 per cent of companies surveyed were forecasting an increase in export revenues this year.

After a crippling price plunge and a stripping back of any excess dead-weight, it appeared that a new dawn had broken on a cost effective, efficient subsea supply chain.

Many of the businesses emerging from the depths of a depressing two year low have become smaller and more specialised.

And many of the presentations at the expo were given over to alternative methods for Maximising Economic Recovery (MER) in the future.

Delegates flew in from all corners of the world, including Brazil, China, Japan and Mozambique to be told that advances in technology could save operators cash, time and risk.

New companies, like Aberdeenshire based commercial diving firm Rocksalt Subsea joined seasoned veterans of the show hoping to hook some new business.

And the firm, which was formed in the ashes of Harkand Group, found the exhibition worthwhile – netting a number of interested parties.

Director Tony French said: “Subsea Expo is a highly focussed event, which for a fairly young company like ourselves provides a fantastic platform to showcase who we are and what we can bring to the market.

“We have been overwhelmed by the number of enquiries we have received and contacts we have made over the past three days. We will definitely be back next year.”

Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK, said that after a difficult couple of years the winds of change were finally blowing in their favour.

He said: “The worst of the pain appears to be behind us and there are promising signs of recovery.

“It’s clear that our industry is making the adjustments needed to meet and then prosper within the current market conditions.

“But we do need a greater sense of urgency in tackling some of the underlying issues around leadership, behaviours in the supply chain and aversion to risk.”

‎Steve Ham the commercial director at Fort William’s purpose built training facility, The Underwater Centre, said the atmosphere at the expo was surprisingly upbeat given the turbulent market conditions since 2014.

He said: “There really is quite a positive feeling in the air.

“There’s been a lively buzz about the show. We’ve made some great new connections as well as reacquainting ourselves with some old friends.

Dave Hamill ‎Business Development Manager at integrated subsea services firm N-Sea Group agreed.

He said: “Year on year we have been coming to the show. This year it seems a little bit smaller however we’ve had a very busy stand.

“There’s been lots of activity and lots of people coming to seek us out. I see this as being very positive, it’s been really successful.”

For Tracy Clark, director of ITC hydraulic services, there was no million dollar deal – but instead she got the chance to catch up with loyal customers.

And she said the plunge in the price of oil has created a number of niche markets for smaller firms.

She said: “It’s been good to catch up with customers and having the chance to discuss upcoming projects.

“The downturn has opened a door in terms of bigger operators looking to more SMEs like ours for carrying out work.

“We were quite lean before the downturn so it’s not really had a massive impact on us. While other firms were costcutting we were already streamlined.”

Matthew Brooks of Hydrasun was impressed by the turnout.

He said: “The vibe was very positive, people were there to do business and there was a strong interest in innovation.

“Reflecting on our strong start to 2017, I hope this confirms that the industry is now re-establishing itself for the year ahead.”