It’s fair to say 2020 has been an unprecedented year. Imagine how unlikely it would have seemed this time last year if someone had said wearing masks in a shop would now be essential, handshakes a distant memory and that we would need to brave the October chill outside the Chester Hotel and Dutch Mill to enjoy a drink?
Likewise, half a century ago when the Forties Field was first discovered, I doubt many people would have expected what was in store for the region and the technology that would need to be developed to safely and efficiently produce oil and gas.
Fast forward to the present day and we read of more operators decommissioning. The jargon has also changed: companies no longer want their brand to be associated purely with oil and gas but rather view energy as a whole rather than in sectors. BP’s Bernard Looney has been a highly publicised example of this with his aim to pivot the oil company towards an integrated energy company through championing low carbon energies. Carbon reductions are hoped to be realised through improved operational efficiency with surplus invested in the energy transition, minimising produced water overboard and through carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS).
Although the North Sea contains many ageing assets, we must be careful not to dismiss the basin as finished but ensure that every last drop is harnessed through new technologies and enhanced oil recovery. We have an incredible talent pool and the skills from specialists can be diversified into helping solve energy demand challenges that will inevitably arise as carbon capture becomes, dare I say it, the new normal.
In the final stage of my MSc in Oil and Gas (not Energy) Engineering at RGU, I am looking to conduct a project into ways we can maintain carbon dioxide in liquid form in order to prevent premature cooling and damage to completion components. I am hoping that the research and project will show that by using flow control devices, the pressure can be controlled for carbon dioxide to be stored safely in the reservoir. This is an exciting time in a relatively new unexplored sector. Further challenges will later occur such as how pipe integrity can be ensured in the presence of such a corrosive gas.
There are opportunities, as we are currently witnessing with Pale Blue Dot’s Acorn project, but we must have governmental input for a successful energy transition. When the £1 billion funding for Shell’s Goldeneye Peterhead carbon storage project was withdrawn in 2015, it undermined the commitment of the government to invest in CCUS. Operators are businesses, first and foremost, and policy makers need to incentivise companies to invest in such projects and companies need to see a short and long-term value return.
At this difficult time, there should be encouragement and perhaps state subsidies to ensure that decommissioning projects are carried out in the UK to generate and sustain employment.
Just as we have seen Aberdeen and the wider region grow and learn since the discovery of oil in the 1970s — and more recently we’ve seen how we can adjust to working from home — the industry must also be ready to embrace new ways of thinking and technologies as we move towards a lower carbon future.