Forty years ago today, production began at the Brent oil and gas field in the North Sea. Coming just two years after the first major oil shock, when an embargo led to dwindling supplies and spiralling prices in the West, Brent helped quell government and consumer anxiety over energy security for the UK.
Brent’s four platforms, Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta, would go on to significantly reduce reliance on energy from abroad, so much so that the UK became a net exporter of oil for the first time.
All told, Brent – a 50-50 venture between Shell and Esso – has produced almost 10% of the UK’s North Sea oil and gas. And it has generated more than £20 billion in tax revenue for the UK government.
Thousands of people have worked on the Brent field over the past four decades, and many more jobs have been created in the supply industry to support Brent and other operations.
Let’s not forget the people who did not return from Brent. This week marks the 30th anniversary of the 1986 Chinook helicopter crash. It is a stark reminder of why safety remains a key priority for Shell. Through the lessons learned and our constant efforts, we have improved safety performance offshore.
The platforms, located more than 180km north-east of Shetland, have wound down from their peak when they could heat and light half of all UK homes. In fact, only Brent Charlie still produces oil and gas.
But this does not mark the end of Brent’s contribution to UK plc. Just like the bulk of the other 470 offshore installations in the UK North Sea, the Brent platforms and pipelines will need to be decommissioned.
The complex engineering process will usher in a whole new industry and could potentially create thousands of jobs in the UK oil and gas sector. It offers an opportunity to build expertise that can be shared globally.
In the coming weeks Shell, which operates Brent, will submit comprehensive recommendations on the decommissioning process to the UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
In preparing our submission, we discussed and received input over 10 years from around 180 organisations across Europe. Such thoroughness, and our eagerness to listen to all involved, reflects what we learned two decades ago around comprehensive engagement and the need to win public acceptance from the decommissioning of Brent Spar, an oil storage installation in the North Sea.
Today, decommissioning looks set to grow significantly as an industry, but it is not the only part of the North Sea’s future.
Around 42 billion barrels of oil and gas have been produced from the North Sea since the mid-1960s. And there are still up to 20 billion barrels which can be recovered, according to Oil &Gas UK’s Economic Report 2016. For its part, Shell remains committed to exploration in the North Sea.
Oil and gas resources can be found in large fields as well as in hundreds of small pools beneath the seabed.
Extracting oil and gas efficiently will require making innovative changes to technologies the industry relies on today. It will need costs to be cut to globally competitive levels. And it will also need continued effective collaboration between industry, the government and the regulator.
Times have changed since production first began on Brent in 1976. The price of a loaf of bread is no longer 19 pence. Abba is no longer in the music charts. And the average UK house is no longer worth £12,704.
But the ingenuity and determination which got Brent up and running is still in abundance in the UK oil and gas industry. If these traits remain, the North Sea will continue to be a global centre of innovation for many years to come.
Energy Voice has teamed up with Shell to celebrate 40 years of Brent. This promoted series will examine the people, milestones and technology that helped make this historic North Sea find possible. It will also analyse what lies ahead for the breakthrough discovery. Happy 40th Brent!
To celebrate and capture the rich history of Brent, Shell is commissioning an e-memory book and an oral history project. If you have an unforgettable Brent story, or have an old photo or memory you would like to share, you can submit them at www.shell.co.uk/brentmemories. The oral history project will be interviewing a selection of candidates from a variety of roles and years to record the highlights and uncover the less widely known stories from the last 40 years. Digital recordings will be donated to The University of Aberdeen who will share these stories with anyone who is interested, from family members and researchers, to students and the public. Please contact Brentinfo@shell.com if you would like more information about these projects.