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.
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.