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Public image of the North Sea

Thursday, November 17, 2011

BP wants to persuade graduates and the public that the UK North Sea has a long term future. How should it do that? Report from Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce breakfast

Trevor Garlick, North Sea Regional President, BP, said that BP's goal for the North Sea for the longer term is to 'maintain a material high quality business'.

We want to 'describe it better, drill it better, displace it better,' he said. 'We want to get the message across that our glass is half full. We are working on projects that will take us out 40 years.'

He was speaking at the The Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce breakfast at Offshore Europe on September 6, 'Securing Safe Smart Sustainable Supply.'

BP will put particular emphasis on 'getting good images of reservoirs,' Mr Garlick said. 'It's something we let go for a while. Traditional seismic was one of the things we cut because it doesn't add reserves.'

'When you see the quality of seismic imaging today you wonder how we did without it.'

BP is looking at how to get more people interested in working in the industry and how it can get more involved in education. 'When children come to [BP's centre in] Dyce and see our 3D images they get really excited,' he said. 'They are so excited by industry and unaware of industry.'

'We have all these [university] students 5 miles of our building who don't know much about what we do.'

'I think that (job) security shouldn't be an issue for today's graduates. You see a series of graphs which suggest a strong future. We're trying to hire 350 people for the North Sea this year - so far we've got 220. Next year we'll need 200. We have 55 new graduates stating on Thursday.

'This is an enormous learning ground - you can learn about all kinds of different rocks. It is an amazing place to train and learn. We send 150 to 200 people from the North Sea to other places every year.'

When it comes to age distribution, 'we have a peak around 50 and a peak around 30. The average might be 40, but there's a problem coming through. I think there is a real concern,' he said.

BP's Mr Garlick noted that renewables should not be considered as equal to the oil and gas industry by investors. 'There might be room for both, but they are not equal,' he said.

'The metrics used on how industry is doing - barrels - is not the only metric. Recovery is just as important as exploring.'

Dale Njoka, Global Oil & Gas Leader, Ernst & Young, noted that he thinks the industry is an easy target for politicians. 'No-one likes spending money on oil,' he said.

'The oil companies probably don't do as good job as we should at getting that message out.'

Mr Njoka said that he was once told by a senior US (democratic) politician that the coal industry is much more effective at lobbying than the oil industry.

'When the coal industry comes to me, it is one voice,' this politician said. 'With the oil and gas industry - I have a little independent with a different agenda to a large company. There's 14 different messages that come through.

'Governments see the oil industry as an easy way to make money,' Mr Njoka said.

David Odling, energy policy manager with Oil and Gas UK, noted that 'when it comes to energy policy at a national [policy] level, the [UK] oil and gas industry is often written off.'

'Short of turning the gas off and seeing the economy grind to a halt, how can we bridge this gap? I does seem as though [the industry and politicians] are living in different places, a few politicians excepted.'

Neil Gordon, CEO of SubSea UK, said that the frequent change of politicians makes it hard for the industry to develop good relationships with government. 'We go to Westminster annually and try to get the ears of politicians. Every 2 years you're dealing with different people. We need a long term policy for the future,' he said.

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish Government's minister of energy, enterprise and tourism, noted that the 'world has been running out of oil since I was a boy. 'Most predictions (for running out of oil) have proven to be wildly conservative.'

One delegate from Robert Gordon University said that there are certain subjects where it is still harder to attract students to. 'Local universities could be getting more engineering students,' he said. This is something the industry could maybe assist with.

One delegate said he had joined the industry in 1998 as a graduate trainee. 'Half the graduates got kicked off when the price dropped,' he said. 'If you want to bring people in the industry you've got to give them security.'

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