Engineer on a North Sea platform

The challenges of the North Sea

When oil and gas production started in the North Sea in the 1970s it required very different technology from that being used elsewhere in the world. New platform designs had to be developed that could withstand the stormy conditions where waves can be 100 feet high.

Traditionally platforms were made of steel but in the North Sea ‘gravity based structures’ were developed. These are made of concrete and fixed to the seabed. Other developments have included the use of unmanned platforms which can be operated remotely, reducing the number of people required to work offshore.

Bringing oil and gas to shore

The next challenge when producing oil and gas is to get it from the offshore platforms to the shore. Initially this was done by tanker but as more fields were developed, it became more efficient to install oil and gas pipelines. Equally, many of the fields were not originally planned to produce gas so special facilities had to be incorporated either to pipe the gas to shore or to install gas processing facilities on the platforms.

Other new developments over recent years include the use of Floating Production, Storage and Offtake (FPSO) vessels. These vessels allow us to operate in more remote areas which do not have access to pipelines.

Operating safely

Many of the facilities in the North Sea are now more than 30 years old and maintaining our platforms safely is an important issue for us. We have an ongoing programme of continuous improvement and investment to make sure all our facilities are effectively maintained.

We also actively participate in the UK industry ‘step change safety initiative’. This partnership between the industry, the workforce and the regulator aims to make the UK the safest oil and gas exploration and production province in the world.

Retiring our assets

Throughout the life of an oil and gas field, we need to adapt the facilities to its changing production requirements. Then, at the end of its life, when further production becomes uneconomic, the facilities need to be taken out of service or ‘decommissioned’.

Like other operators, we will increasingly face this challenge in the North Sea. We are consulting widely with experts and a range of stakeholders to help us in this work. This will ensure that we decommission our facilities in a responsible way in line with legislative requirements.

Find out about our work to decommission the Brent field facilities

The future

Shell intends to remain an oil and gas producer in the UK for many more years to come. But as production declines from some of the older fields in the North Sea, we have had to make some difficult decisions to shape our business for the future.

We are focusing on increasing the efficiency and production of our operations. At the same time, we are consolidating our portfolio. These initiatives will help to ensure that we have a long term, competitive business that can play its part in the next phase of oil and gas production in the UK.

[1] Wood Review,

Also in this section

Finding oil and gas

See how we have pioneered new technologies in the North Sea that are now used elsewhere in the world.

Processing oil and gas

Shell plays a vital role in powering the UK and keeping people and business moving. Across all of our business activities, we focus on being a safe and sustainable business. Our people often work in demanding roles and extreme conditions so ensuring they go home safely every day is our number one priority. One of the most demanding environments is the North Sea where we have been exploring for and producing oil and gas for more than 50 years.

Boosting oil production

We have been able to develop and apply new technology to fields that has made it possible to recover more precious resources.