|BRITAIN'S OFFSHORE OIL & GAS
The Offshore Challenge
When development of the North Sea fields began in the mid-60s, the industry had never before faced such a hostile environment. Whilst simple platform designs derived from those used in the Gulf of Mexico sufficed for the shallow southern North Sea, the severe storms and great water depths of the northern North Sea called for major engineering and technological innovation (F84). Production facilities had to be designed to withstand wind gusts of 180 km/hour and waves 30 metres high. Other problems included the ever-present salt-water corrosion and fouling by marine organisms. Dealing with the many underwater construction and maintenance tasks falls to divers and remotely operated vehicles. Giant floating cranes (F83) designed to lift ever greater loads were commissioned and many other specialised craft had to be developed to establish and service the offshore industry. Huge helicopter fleets were needed to ferry workers to and from the platforms and rigs.
In recent years, as the North Sea industry has reached maturity, most new developments do not entail massive new production platforms. Instead, the tendency has been to use existing infrastructure for new developments. This has two benefits - it extends the economic life of that infrastructure, and means that small accumulations can be developed economically. Most North Sea finds now are relatively small compared with the earlier giants such as Forties and Brent. There has been an ongoing drive to make the industry increasingly cost effective, without compromising safety or environmental factors, so that the North Sea industry can continue to win investment for new projects, in competition with the rest of the world.