Australian oil and gas event ‘presents new opportunities’ for UK subsea firms

Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK
Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK
Opinion by Neil GordonChief executive of Subsea UK

The Australasia Oil and Gas Conference (AOG) is Australia’s largest oil and gas exhibition, and Subsea UK attended the event with five member companies to promote UK expertise and learn about the opportunities in this continent.

Neil Gordon, chief executive of Subsea UK, shares his thoughts on the three day event.

This year’s show was very positive compared to recent years.

The Australian market had been badly affected by the downturn.

Prior to that, the industry had seen more than $260billion of investment over 10 years in big capital projects. However the downturn came as many of those developments were nearing completion.

As a result, the region is now going through a transitional period, moving from a CAPEX intensive phase into an OPEX environment.

This presents new opportunities for the future of the industry and there was a definite feeling of optimism at AOG.

At the end of last year, Australia overtook Qatar to become the world’s largest exporter of Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), and has set out to establish Western Australia as a global LNG hub.

This development, and the region’s investment into the offshore industry, present opportunities for UK companies.

With much of the major infrastructure now in place, the region is focussing on the operations and maintenance of these assets.

With this comes ongoing opportunities for the subsea industry, in particular, because of the nature of LNG operations, there will be a constant requirement to add new subsea tiebacks over the next 20 to 30 years.

The major infrastructure developments require subsea tie-backs to be added to maintain the constant volume of LNG required to “feed” the facilities within their optimum operational windows.

In many cases, although the North Sea is a much more mature province, the technological challenges being faced are very similar and the UK subsea sector has the experience and expertise to help provide the solutions.

There are however some unique challenges to the region which include large pipelines over great distances with some challenging seabed conditions.

Due to the geographical spread and distances between operations across the basin, there is a need for innovative technology to help make maintenance of the assets as efficient and cost effective as possible.

As a recognised global hub for subsea engineering, there is potential for UK SMEs to work with companies in Australia to deliver solutions to these challenges through the development of new technology and innovation.

All of these elements mean that the Australian market is a very attractive one for UK companies.

The five member companies who travelled to AOG with Subsea UK – Rotech Subsea Limited, Ashford Instrumentation Limited, Viper Innovations Limited, Neptune Engineering and Vulcan SFM – reported positive conversations along these veins at the exhibition. I am very optimistic that this will have opened doors and created opportunities for them.

As well as forging new relationships, attending AOG is about sharing knowledge. I was invited to give a presentation at the Collaboration Forum and participate in a discussion exploring the future of jobs in oil and gas.

In this session, I highlighted some of the work OPITO and Robert Gordon University are doing around UKCS Workforce Dynamics which looks at the changing skills requirements for the industry over the next 20 years with a focus on the future impact of digitalisation across the sector.

This is an issue being faced across the industry as companies look to develop new skills to keep up with the next steps in digital innovation such as remote intervention, automation, robotics and artificial intelligence. Ensuring there is a strong workforce for the future with the right skills is vital for the region as it seeks to capitalise on the opportunities and investment in projects.

As a greenfield basin moving to brownfield, Australia is looking to learn from the experience and lessons learned from operating ageing fields. As a result, there is a thirst for knowledge from the UK and Norway in terms of best practice and determining the factors for success.

With all this in mind, the coming years are going to be interesting for Australia and will continue to present exciting and profitable market opportunities for UK companies.

Subsea UK is one of the partner organisers of the AOG Subsea Forum Conference along with SEA (Subsea Energy Australia) and SUT (Society of Underwater Technology).