Of course oil fields are not bottomless pits of black gold and some of the North Sea oil fields are now reaching the end of their economic lives. For an island that has built much of its current economy and community life on the promises of the 1970s there must be concern about the future.
A number of changes are underway with BP and Shell both selling oilfields onto other companies and some oil rigs are to be decommissioned. Lerwick Harbour is drawing on its experience over the past forty or so years to continue to offer services to a changing oil industry by taking a lead in the process of decommissioning oil rigs and helping companies to develop new fields. This promotional video may surprise you – Shetland oil and gas and Lerwick Harbour
Just this week the Shetland Times showed an oil production vessel arriving in Lerwick. The 12000 tonne Buchan Alpha has been working in the North Sea for over thirty years, producing around 150m barrels of oil during its working life.
This will be decommissioned over the next 17 months, providing 30 jobs. Around 98% of the steel structure will be recycled.
Earlier in our stay we watched two ‘heavy lift vessels’ arrive in Lerwick Harbour from South Korea carrying modules to be installed as part of the Mariner field 95 miles east of Shetland.
This new oil field will create and support over 1000 jobs, whilst new oil finds west of Shetland are also being explored.
Although the oil industry in Shetland is probably past its peak there are likely to be opportunities for work for many years, perhaps for the children and grandchildren of those who came to ‘dig’ for black gold in the 1970s.
Meanwhile there are other opportunities developing in Shetland. These islands have more than their fair share of wind! And there are now major plans to harness its power to provide electricity to the UK grid. After a long period of consultation and argument, approval has been given for the Viking Wind Farm Project – 103 turbines will be installed in the central area of mainland Shetland and a high voltage cable will take electricity to mainland UK. This will bring construction and permanent management and maintenance jobs and because the Shetland Community Trust has a 90% shareholding in the company local people could benefit by around 1.8m each year.
And earlier this year the third turbine of the Shetland Tidal Array – the first off-shore, grid connected tidal array in the world – was installed in Bluemull Sound between the islands of Yell and Unst. This is also community owned and supplies homes and businesses in Yell.