The Magazine for Underwater Professionals
I had hoped, after the decisive result of the British general election, that it would be easier to look into the future. Although UK consumer confidence is at its highest for 16 years, dark clouds hang over Europe. Although some oil service companies are making optimistic statements, producers such as Petrobras have announced huge cuts in their spending and one of the UK’s most successful diving companies has gone into liquidation.
I am, of course, pleased with a sharp slow down in the building of onshore wind farms. I still wish more interest would be shown in other forms of renewable energy and carbon capture. For those like me, who believe the huge reserves of UK coal should be mined, I was pleased to see that the US Supreme Court had ruled against new rules to limit emissions from power stations. Even more pleasing has been the announcement by Shell that it is competing for £1billion to develop the world’s first plant to extract and store CO2 waste under the North Sea. There was a mention of this idea in the last issue of UCi, following a talk to the Aberdeen Branch of the Society for Underwater Technology; it is sad that the more interesting SUT talks seem to take place north of Watford!
I have never been a great fan of referendums; I believe that if a government has doubts about its progress, it should call a general election – though the UK’s misguided decision for a fixed parliamentary term makes this much more difficult. I am appalled by the behaviour of Greece, which cheated about its financial position and should never have been allowed into the Common Market. I was keen for Britain to join the EEC, largely as a way of making another world war unlikely but, unless there are substantial changes in the way that it is run, I may change my mind. I am also, as a result of the boorish behaviour of the Scottish MPs, believing the rest of the UK would be better off if Scotland gained its independence. The crash in the oil price and the likelihood that the Orkneys and Shetland, which share most of the Scottish oil and gas, would in turn declare independence makes me feel that, as in the early 1700s, the Scots would be very soon asking to come back.
As I have said, news from the natural energy area has been very patchy. The John Wood Group has repeated that it will make a double-digit increase in its dividend, Lamprell, a manufacturer of oil rigs, remains confident and even Petrofac has announced record orders and a more promising outlook. The Middle East Unique Group, with a current turnover of more than US$100 million, has announced that it intends to double its size by 2018. Iran plans to invest US$100 billion in oil and gas, if sanctions are lifted. On the other hand, Statoil is to slash a further 2000 jobs and Petrobras plans a 37% cut in its future investment in the next five years. Sadly, Red7Marine announced in June that it had gone into liquidation; the Eastern Daily Press reported that this would affect directly the 280 staff who man Red7Marine’s three vessels and 150 subcontracted divers. At the same time non-North Sea diving wages are being cut sharply. As I have said in the past, this is not a good time to train as a diver.
Forecasts on the future demand for oil and gas vary enormously and the only bright spot for the North Sea seems to be the likely sharp rise in spending on rig decommissioning. The failure to obtain permission for the extraction of shale in this country will also help in the short term. More positively, it seems that Shell will get permission to resume drilling in the Arctic, although its rigs have to be 15 miles apart to protect walruses. The British government may also be set to give further help to companies operating in the North Sea. At least the price per barrel of oil seems to be holding near US$60, although the UK Office for Budget Responsibility expects the industry to raise just £2.1 billion for the Exchequer in the 20 years from 2020/21, compared with a forecast of £36.6 billion a year ago. So much for Alex Salmond’s crazy forecasts; if he were a company, a serious enquiry would be mounted. Again on a positive note, more takeovers are likely to be mounted following Shell’s bid for British Gas, as most recently that of Dragon Oil by ENOC, although Centrica is likely to sell its North Sea assets.
I always try to end my column with some more cheerful news. An attempt is to be made to reduce noise from wind farms by mimicking an owl’s wings – the blades will be coated with a new material, smoothing the passage of air as it passes over. Scotch-Hatch Ltd, a North West Scottish company, is aiming to produce high quality diver-caught king scallops in a hatchery, following a 10% decline in scallop stocks off North West Scotland over the last ten years. Readers with long memories may remember I always ask in restaurants if scallops are diver-caught or dredged; the latter method destroys the seabed and gives the dinner a taste of grit.
Readers may also remember my visit to an American prison in Chino to see prisoners being trained as commercial divers. In Italy inmates are to be taught to work in a vineyard. I have always believed that those less fortunate in the world should be helped and was impressed by a recent visit to Somerset to Key4Life, which aims to help ex-prisoners and those likely to fall into bad ways with tuition, including working with horses, and obtaining a job. The charity has been supported by British Telecom and I will watch its further progress with interest. In these uncertain times it is good to be able to be positive.