The petroleum industry in Aberdeen began in the mid-20th century with the discovery of oil deposits in the North Sea. Despite these findings, harsh environmental factors prompted many to question whether the region could become a significant source of oil and gas. Today, Aberdeen is considered the ‘Oil Capital of Europe’ and has created an estimated half a million jobs. Needless to say, the skeptics were proven wrong, but let’s take a step back in time to see how it all started.
In the early 70s, following the discovery of oil deposits, an influx of oil producers descended upon Aberdeen. Here they set up the rigs, platforms, and pipelines that would turn the newly discovered offshore oil into onshore energy. Despite an influx of environmental challenges (which we will touch on in a moment), the industry was propelled forward by the nation’s desire to be oil and gas self-sufficient. You see, at the same time as oil deposits were found, an economic crisis was wreaking havoc on most of Britain. Up until this point, producing and exporting oil and gas had never been more than a dream, but now that oil deposits had been found, the nation was eager to get it flowing and quickly. With the potential to create massive profits, companies continued to flood the region.
As exploration moved further north oil was found in even greater quantities. The first of British oil was brought ashore by an American company, Hamilton Brothers in 1975, which was soon followed by BP. This success prompted even more companies from Britain, America, and Europe to set up installations along the North Sea. By the early 1980s, the region was producing millions of barrels a day. By the mid-1980s Britain was a net exporter of oil and by the mid-1990s, we were exporting gas as well.
The Many Challenges of the North Sea
Despite the burgeoning success of the North Sea’s petroleum industry, the climate, depth, and harsh seas made oil extraction difficult from the start. Prospecting and recovering oil in the North Sea were done in some of the most challenging conditions on earth. While early offshore exploration was done from platforms with legs secured to the sea bottom, conditions became more challenging as exploration pushed north into much deeper waters. Fortunately, those involved were not deterred, but rather inspired by the challenges and as a result, Aberdeen developed world-class engineering expertise. The region’s experts had to invent innovative techniques to get the oil out of reserves deep under the water onto the shore. This prompted the creation of a subset of oil technology called subsea engineering, which included the use of floating rigs and production facilities on the seabed that pumped oil into more accessible pipelines. Today, there are an estimated 200 specialized subsea companies in Aberdeen that travel worldwide to help petroleum companies extract oil and gas from difficult terrain.
Although reserves continue to flow today, many have estimated that the North Sea is nearing or has already surpassed its peak rate of production. With this in mind, Aberdeen is expected to shift its focus towards research and development and renewable energy rather than strictly offshore drilling. There has even been a local push to replace Aberdeen’s reputation as the ‘Oil Capital of Europe’ into the ‘Energy Capital of Europe’.
Over the past forty years, the North Sea has fought for, and succeeded in, becoming one of the world’s most productive energy industries. It hasn’t always been an easy road, but it definitely was one worth travelling. As the energy sector continues to shift, we are excited to see what the innovative minds of Aberdeen come up with -- stay tuned, we get to find out shortly!