Without any doubt, the North Sea is one of the main hydrocarbon reservoirs in the world. We can easily claim that it is the main jewel in the oil and gas crown of Europe.
No matter what we hear or read about the oil and gas industry, the basin is one of the main sources of economic prosperity for the countries around it. It is enough to see the renaissance that Norway enjoyed after its oil discoveries (it is estimated that the Norwegian sector alone contains 54% of the sea’s oil reserves), and you will understand the importance of the North Seas hydrocarbons as an industrial and financial booster.
Except for the financial injection for the surrounding countries, the offshore oil and gas industry of the North Sea provides jobs for hundreds of thousands of workers from all around the world.
Despite that there are several important events for the history, we can easily point to 1964 as the birth of the North sea’s oil and gas industry.
In May 1964 the UK Continental Shelf Act is accepted, and later that year the first offshore seismic exploration and first offshore well of the UK’s North Sea part was drilled.
The disappointment from the first dry wells didn’t sit for long, as the BP’s rig Sea Gem manages to find gas at the West Sole Field in September 1965. Two years later, the field with estimated reserves of 61bn m3 of gas, and which is located approximately 70 km away from the shores of Yorkshire, becomes the first developed field in the North sea.
The celebrations from the discovery in 1965 are quickly forgotten, as later the same year, the rig Sea Gem sinks into the sea. The incident, that occurs during the rig move cost the life of 13 crew members and set a reminder for the offshore oil and gas industry. This event acted as a warning light for the industry, and several safety improvements are made. The recognition of an offshore installation manager (OIM) and the use of stand-by boats for the offshore platforms are some of the standards set after the incident.
After those discoveries, several more follows, and the sea quickly showed that holds great reserves of natural gas. But December 1969 brings diversification when Phillips Petroleum are rewarded with oil discovery in the Ekofisk Field in Norwegian waters in the central North Sea.
The oil discovery made by Phillips Petroleum quickly encourages the other companies, and the followed numerous drillings are generously rewarded. Forties Oil Field is discovered by BP in 1970. Brent oilfield which gave its name to the sort of oil from the North Sea is discovered in 1971 by Shell Expro. 1973 and 1974 led to the discoveries of Piper oilfield, Statfjord Field, and the Ninian Field.
The ’70s are definitely some of the most rewarding years for the oil and gas industry in the North Sea. The platforms and the workforce in the basin are rapidly increased and the sea becomes that important energy supplier that we know it today.
The future of the North sea as an oil and gas source is different in the eyes of the countries which are benefited from access to those resources.
It is in the plans of the country to stop fossil fuel production by 2050. As part of the plan, the Danish government cancels all the permits for future exploration wells in the North Sea.
This is a major change, as Denmark is the European union’s major oil producer, and with offshore production of oil and gas that started back in the 1970s, which helped Denmark to become one of the richest European countries.
The UK’s government is considering putting the oil and gas production from the North sea to an end following the example of Denmark.
But the major problem is that most of the UK’s North Sea reserves are in Scottish waters. The future ban will put great economical pressure on this region as nearly 40% of the UK’s jobs supported by the oil industry are in Scotland. Furthermore, this might be a great impact on UK’s integrity.
As it is one of the main suppliers of the country’s wealth, the restriction for oil and gas exploration and production doesn’t look close.
Some of the oil fields, such as Veslefrikk Field are planned for decommissioning, but the Norwegian government is supporting future researches with the issuing of exploration drilling licenses.
Here we have a similar situation as with Norway.
Fossil fuels are some of the main contributors to the country’s wealth (the Netherlands is the biggest producer of natural gas in the European Union). For the next 10 years, there are a lot of decommissioning projects planned for the Dutch sector of the North Sea, but the exploration and production licenses are still freely issued by the country’s government.
Unlike the other four, German resources in the North Sea are very limited. But even with this disadvantage, the country doesn’t consider the cancelation of the projects in the basin.
Mittelplate Field, which is Germany’s biggest oil field producing since 1987 is still pumping oil into the country’s economy, and future decommissioning doesn’t seem near.
The North Sea is undoubtedly one of the cradles of the offshore oil and gas industry. Many discoveries that helped the industry to evolve were made there. With nearly six decades since the first discoveries of hydrocarbonates there, the offshore health and safety standards are one of the highest in the world thanks to the development of the North Sea.
No matter what the near future will bring for the oil and gas, the basin will still remain as one of the main sources of subsistence for the population around it.