Technology hub ushers in new era for oil sector

Aberdeen has seen its fortunes ebb and flow with the global oil market but the new technology centre initiative could provide some welcome stability. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Aberdeen has seen its fortunes ebb and flow with the global oil market but the new technology centre initiative could provide some welcome stability. Picture: Ian Rutherford

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As the official opening of Aberdeen’s new Oil & Gas Technology Centre takes place, Scott Reid looks at how it hopes to raise the bar on industry innovation.

When the ribbon is cut on Aberdeen’s Oil & Gas Technology Centre today it will herald a step change in the way business and academia can work together to drive innovation across the industry, both locally and internationally.

The Oil & Gas Technology Centre is headed by chief executive Colette Cohen. Picture: Contributed

The Oil & Gas Technology Centre is headed by chief executive Colette Cohen. Picture: Contributed

The new £180 million facility, which forms a core part the £250m Aberdeen City Region Deal, aims to become the “go to” technology research centre of its kind globally. It will work with a wide range of partners to accelerate the development and deployment of systems and technologies that can ramp up efficiency and increase productivity.

The centre – structured on a not-for-profit basis – will co-invest alongside industry, technology and academic partners, whose matched funding contribution can be both cash and in-kind, in the form of access to knowledge, expertise, assets, facilities and equipment.

It’s a bold initiative, but one that its backers see as essential if the full potential of the UK North Sea is to be realised over the coming years.

READ MORE: Oil and gas companies must look ‘beyond efficiency’

We can attract the next generation into our industry

Colette Cohen

The official opening will coincide with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the technology centre and Aberdeen and Robert Gordon universities for a multi-million pound joint venture to develop a Centre of Excellence for Field Life Extension and Decommissioning in the Granite City.

The partnership comes as the embattled oil and gas industry in the North-east sits at a tipping point when it might be able to move from survival mode to strategic recovery. With the oil price looking a little more stable but still some way off its $100-plus peak, the clamour for increased efficiencies and reduced costs has never been greater. Multi-billion-pound decommissioning work also offers up huge potential.

Speaking ahead of the launch event – due to be attended by Lord Dunlop, the UK government minister for Scotland, and Scottish business, innovation and energy minister Paul Wheelhouse – Oil & Gas Technology Centre chief executive Colette Cohen said: “This is definitely an opportunity for this centre and academia to come together and become industry focused, partnering rather than developing the technology in isolation and hoping that industry will take it on.

“The advantages we have with the North Sea are the variety of assets and the depth of the waters. Pretty much anything we develop here has an application globally.

“We can identify technology that can turn around these assets that is immediately exportable and yet we are going to anchor that supply chain right here in the north-east of Scotland.”

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Cohen hailed the agreement between the technology centre and the two local academic institutions creating the first of what is likely to become a series of centres of excellence. The partnership will drive the technology and innovation needed to maximise economic recovery from the North Sea, make sure that facilities are decommissioned efficiently and help the UK become a global leader in this growth market. “We are going to build a physical footprint, bring in experts not only from academia but from industry to really drive change,” noted Cohen. “These centres of excellence will allow us to develop the right skills at the right time.

“We can attract the next generation into our industry. We need to become more digitised, more advanced in our approach – we have missed an opportunity of sharing and leveraging off other sectors.”

The Oil & Gas Technology Centre was established last October with £180m funding as part of the Aberdeen City Region Deal. An additional £174.1m has to be generated in matched funding from industry, university or others as part of the centre’s long-term funding, which can be both cash and in-kind.

“Since being set up, the centre has screened “hundreds of opportunities” with several projects already underway. These include a field trial this year, which could transform how wells are plugged and abandoned, with the potential to save hundreds of millions of pounds.

Sir Ian Wood, oil industry veteran and chairman of the new technology centre, said: “Substantially increasing the development and deployment of technology is vital to recover as many of the 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent that could remain on the UK Continental Shelf.

“The Oil & Gas Technology Centre has moved quickly from concept, through business case development, to its launch today, as a standalone organisation.

“With clear long-term global aspirations, our success will provide the magnet to encourage a significant proportion of our high-tech supply chain sector to remain in the region beyond the North Sea era.”

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