It was one of the most significant projects in the history of oil exploration.
Sir Ian Wood, former chief executive of Wood Group, has even been moved to dub it a “science fiction-type development”.
Now, nearly 50 years after it was first proposed, the Forties Oil Field has been named as one of the 200 ventures which have most changed the world.
The field was chosen by the Institution of Civil Engineers, which is celebrating its bicentenary.
It was first announced by BP in 1970 that oil had been struck 110 miles, east-northeast of Aberdeen, in 350 feet of water.
Four appraisal wells, drilled during 1971 and 1972, revealed a large reservoir at a depth of about 7,000 feet, making it the first and largest major oil field discovery in the United Kingdom sector of the North Sea.
The Forties began producing oil in September 1975 and was officially inaugurated by Her Majesty in November of that year.
The field is the largest in the North Sea, making the size and scale of the project a turning point for offshore oil production around the globe.
Its discovery marked Aberdeen as a key player in the oil industry, bringing investment and expertise from around the world.
Accessing the field become a monumental feat of civil engineering and, at the outset, many people wondered how the logistical problems could be tackled.
By using space-age technology, however, engineers assembled an interconnected network of wells, rigs, and platforms to extract oil from the ocean floor.
And by 1978 the field was providing the UK with one fifth of its annual oil needs. Production peaked at 500,000 barrels a day – well above early predictions.
BP owned and ran the field until 2003 when it sold to the US-based Apache Corporation.
Sir Ian Wood still marvels at the fashion in which the Forties challenge was negotiated by the early pioneers.
He said: “It was a project of a scale that I don’t think Scotland had ever seen before – not just in terms of size, but the sheer ground-breaking technology that was involved.
“Frankly it was science fiction-type engineering developments.”
James L House, former UK Regions vice president and managing director of Apache, added: “It’s an incredible story.
“BP was able to do tremendous things when they developed the field in the 70s, somewhat similar to putting a man on the moon because they were going into uncharted territory.
“Development of this type had never existed in the North Sea.”
To mark the ICE’s 200th anniversary, and to support the UK Government’s Year of Engineering, the institution is highlighting 200 inspirational and world-changing projects from around the world throughout 2018.
Nominated by the ICE’s members and selected by an expert panel, the chosen projects illustrate the breadth and depth of civil engineering’s impact.
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