The discovery of the Forties field over 50 years ago represented a seminal moment in both the history of the North Sea and the UK’s energy industry. It was a starting point from which a fledgling offshore oil and gas sector began to chart a path that ultimately delivered one of the world’s premier energy hubs.
Looking back, it’s easy to assume this was a foregone conclusion. In reality, it was testament to the vision and tenacity of the early pioneers who took a leap of faith and invested in an opportunity that enabled the UK to capitalise on the natural resources it was fortunate to have on its doorstep.
There’s a well-known quote from Mark Twain that ‘history doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.’ With the publication of the North Sea Transition Deal, I firmly believe the UK oil and gas industry now has a similar opportunity to shape its own destiny and drive a successful transition towards an integrated energy future that can be just as rewarding as the last five decades.
In politics as in life, there is often too much hyperbole, but today’s announcement really does represent a landmark deal for the industry. It demonstrates global leadership on climate change and, importantly, charts a realistic roadmap for a just transition of jobs, skills and expertise as well.
The deal includes a wide range of commitments, but central tenets include a meaningful focus on decarbonisation and CCUS, a managed transition from energy produced via hydrocarbons to low-carbon sources like hydrogen and offshore wind, sustainable decommissioning, and a concerted drive to ensure that this shift creates local jobs and is made possible by the companies and industries who have safeguarded our energy security over the last 50 years.
The best way to prepare for the future is to plan for it and I’m proud to see our industry take such bold and positive steps forward. From a Wood perspective, I’m also very encouraged by the many similarities between the vision set out within the North Sea Transition Deal and our own corporate strategy.
The £3bn being allocated to support platform electrification will be a big step forward in delivering a net-zero basin. Our work with Equinor to modify the Hywind Tampen assets so they can be powered by offshore wind can serve as a blueprint for industry to follow.
Similarly, the co-investment from industry and government in carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen can cement the UK’s position as a world-leader in these growth markets. At Wood, we have delivered over 150 CCS studies and are currently shaping the decarbonisation of major industrial clusters on Humberside, Teesside and at Grangemouth in Scotland. In hydrogen, we have licenced and designed over 120 hydrogen units, have cutting edge solutions across green, blue and bio hydrogen and there is no application of h2 in an industrial setting, that we cannot deliver.
Finally, the focus on sustainable decommissioning is also very encouraging. Building a centre of excellence for this expertise in the UK will create jobs in the near-term and shape an offer that we can then export to the world as other energy hubs begin to plan their own transitions towards a lower-carbon future and less reliance on hydrocarbon production. At Wood, we have partnered with Shell in decommissioning several of the Brent assets, a programme that sets the standard for this type of work.
In close, I fully appreciate that change can create uncertainty and fear in some quarters. And there’s no doubt that delivering on the ambitions laid out in the deal will see a major step change in our industry, however we can and should take confidence from the past. We have a distinguished track record of developing technically challenging solutions in areas that many would not have dared to think possible. The pioneering spirit that the North Sea growth was built on will continue to be just as important as we chart our role in helping to maintain secure access to energy and drive the UK forward towards our shared vision for a net-zero future.
Chief Operating Officer, Wood