The row between British Geological Survey, academics and PESGB (Petroleum Exploration Society of Great Britain) over relocation of the rock core store in Edinburgh to the English Midlands is becoming increasingly bitter.
While North Sea industry people view the relocation as plain stupid, the Department of Energy and Climate Change appears to have washed its hands of the affair.
Energy got in touch with DECC. The response was predictable – and complacent.
Its mini-missive said: “DECC does not consider that a move to a purpose-built store in Keyworth will harm the full exploration for and development of the UK’s oil and gas resources provided the cores are readily available to the geological community and the condition of the cores is properly maintained.”
That’s not how North Sea folk in Scotland see it; and bear in mind that Aberdeen is home to a greater concentration of relevant expertise than any other part of Britain.
Someone well placed in that regard e-mailed the following observation to me: “Obviously, DECC does not appreciate that people in oil&gas service companies are also time and money constrained, and getting to Keyworth will at least double time and costs and therefore be a significant deterrent to its use.
“Furthermore, some service companies and consultancies, many based in England, have built part of their business around the Edinburgh location. Even oil companies in London tend to find it more convenient to go to Edinburgh than Keyworth.”
DECC says: “We are very aware of the concerns raised by users of the store and that there will be disruption for them.”
Nice of them to be aware. Shame they won’t do anything about it.
The custodianship of the cores lies with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), of which the British Geological Survey is a part.
DECC has asked that the cores are readily available to the geological community and that the condition of the cores is properly maintained.
It happens that the cores are already very well looked after, with capacity for several decades more at the Edinburgh site for minimal investment.
And yet NERC is happy to chuck away millions on this relocation. But for whose benefit?
NERC has issued its diktat. BGS has been told that the move must be complete in 18 months.
There are 140,000 boxes, which means that one box per minute has to be un-shelved, photographed, packed securely and loaded to transportation. This is BGS’s own calculation. I am told that, even if five minutes per box was realistic, it would take seven-and-a-half years.
And yet DECC has the arrogance to tell me that it “supports the measures that BGS is proposing to ensure that disruption to ongoing work is minimised and that the transition is as smooth as possible”.
This includes “no disruption during licence round”. Really? How can DECC be so sure?
According to DECC, BGS is to work with the universities and industry to identify suitable cores and a location to provide a dedicated teaching collection.
And yet this will still require significant storage and lay-out space, and it has not been identified where this will be or who will pay for it.
I have learned that an important discrepancy has emerged between the cost estimates that the BGS quoted to the National Audit Office (NAO) and the new ones it is now working off (let alone the real cost of the transfer).
Last month’s meeting at the Royal Society of Edinburgh (RSE) minuted that “There was a large gulf between the BGS estimate of £700,000 and one provided by a commercial firm, Kirk Associates, to do this, which came to some £4.3million. If these costs were re-appraised, it could turn out that it would be cheaper to upgrade the existing stores”.
I am advised that BGS director John Ludden was pressed on this point and he added that the £700,000 figure did not include the palleting, which would add £300,000 and, hence, now take the admitted cost to about £1million.
The NAO response stated that “BGS’s proposal is for its staff to complete the unpacking, digital photography and repacking of the core boxes, with the costs (estimated at £350,000) absorbed within BGS staff costs”.
The NAO needs to know about the new inflated figure, which is now some £650,000 MORE than BGS quoted to it.
A source told me: “Even if they continue to dispute the cost estimate from the industry leader in the field of core moving – and it’s hard to see how they can – since their estimate is also predicated on an totally unrealistic one-minute ‘slick flow line’, the real cost can only escalate (especially if it takes five minutes per core and, hence, more than seven years to achieve).
“It has become clear that another reason that their estimate is much cheaper is because they will use casual temp labour.
“They reckon it would take only one minute to transfer and photograph the cores. If achieved, they reckon this will take 18 months to complete. They did concede that if it took one minute, 30 seconds per core, they were looking at 27 months for the operation to be complete.
“I reckon I am pretty fit, but would I be able to reclaim and carry heavy boxes carefully from the racks, let alone photograph them in that time? No! If we have a conservative estimate of five minutes per core, that would mean it would all take seven-and-a-half years (90 months), and if it were 10 minutes per core, we would be looking at 15 years (180 months).
“Who are they trying to kid? This is incredible.”
Strikes me that DECC, NERC and BGS bosses need to wake up and stop this nonsense in its tracks right now. And the relevant politicians had better wake up, too, and guard taxpayers’ money.