Oil, Gas and Renewables – a glimpse of the future.

July and early August tend to be slower months in offices across Scotland, but out on the seas, harbours and fabrication shops of the Highlands and Islands things are anything but quiet. Since coming back from my summer holidays, a combination of work and pleasure trips around the North of Scotland have highlighted how the energy industry footprint can be seen right across the region. 

A recent drive to my home town of Thurso from my adopted town of Cromarty, via Wick, brought it home how the worlds of on-shore and off shore, oil, gas and renewables are no longer separate and distinct, but increasing interchangeable and interdependent. Crossing to Nigg on the new Cromarty Queen Car ferry, brought me directly past the quayside of the Nigg Fabrication yard, with well advanced plans for it to be re-born as a multi use Energy Park. Yet the deserted look of the yard is deceptive, with its huge scale masking the fact that it’s fabrication sheds are busy with scores of welders and fitters, building sub-sea structures for the off shore oil and gas sector. Behind it the gas flare of the Nigg Oil terminal, and the tankers berthed in the Firth, shows that the revitalised Beatrice Oil field, and the new Jacky field are quietly producing the thick waxy oil characteristic of the geology of that part of the Moray Firth.

Considering that the Beatrice field has been producing oil for over 25 years, and its operators Ithaca are busy looking to develop new fields in the wider area, it’s clear that the modest oil and gas industry in the Moray Firth still has lots of potential yet. Yet the regions supply chain serves a global market, as a recent days sailing around the Cromarty Firth highlighted. Stacked semi-subs and jackups are a common sight, but it’s only when you get close up in a boat do you notice that rigs you thought were cold and empty are in fact busy and noisy, with new paint work underway, and long dormant machinery being tested as part of a mobilisation process which could take the rigs half way round the world. 

However, travelling further north, nearer Lybster where a more unusual sight presents itself. Perched on the cliffs, with the two Beatrice platforms in the distance, stands a bulky on-shore drilling rig, looking as if it should be more at home in the Texas plains than the Scottish Highlands. Using modern directional drilling techniques, Caithness Petroleum are busy drilling production wells to oil fields several miles off-shore, and once production starts next year, will truck it down the A9 to the Nigg Oil Terminal. Modest in scale, low cost in development (well for oil and gas anyway!), but innovative in concept. 

Yet it’s the two Beatrice demonstrator wind turbines that can be seen from the A9, along with the large brightly coloured vessels that steam past them from the Cromarty Firth, laden with prototype renewable devices for the EMEC test centre in Orkney that show us a glimpse of the next ten years of energy in the North. This was brought home to me when slowly sailing past the quayside at Invergordon last Saturday (winds were light and variable), where moored next to a vessel unloading blades for a new windfarm in Sutherland, loomed an enormous and very impressive deep sea construction vessel, the North Sea Giant. At home after the regatta, a quick Google search showed that she was brand new, just a couple of months old, built for sub sea construction, well intervention and drilling. 

But what was she doing in Invergordon? Unloading equipment used for the installation of the foundations of Voith Hydro’s Tidal turbine in the Fall of Warness in Orkney. Equipment she had loaded at Scrabster harbour in Caithness. As the industry develops it is clear that the North Sea Giant and vessels like her will be an increasingly common sight in Orkney, Caithness, the Cromarty Firth, as well as other ports and harbours in the waters around the Highlands and Islands. 

Oil and gas and renewables, multi-purpose deep sea construction vessels, wind turbines and sub sea tow heads. Together, all give an exciting glimpse of the future of energy in the Highlands and Islands.






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