“Their Helicopters No Longer Sing”

{2020 - Present}

The machine does not isolate man from the great problems of nature but plunges him more deeply into them. 

{Antoine de Saint-Exupery, ‘The Little Prince’ [1943]}

When the first oil and gas fields in the North Sea started to come online from the mid 1970s onwards, the bold prediction was that production across the UK Continental Shelf {UKCS} would peak during the 1980s and start to tail off at some stage in the 1990s. Few, however, speculated that fields would be operational at a viable level beyond that point, decades into the next millennium.

Significant developments in technology allowed operators to tap into areas of fields that had previously been impossible to reach, thus extending the life of a number of Production Platforms across the North Sea. While developmental focus moved from the central and northern North Sea to the West of Shetland, a number of the key basins within the UKCS had started to mature and become gradually less productive – the Brent Field being the most notable in terms of its scale and historical importance for its overall contribution to the energy sector. Across its four Platforms: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta, the field at its peak {1982} was producing 504,000 barrels of oil per day and by 2008 had produced an overall total of 3 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

The combination of maturing and less viable fields, fluctuations in the global price of oil and gas and an environmental acknowledgement of the need to move away from fossil fuels to renewable energies, has encouraged operators to set in motion their own decommissioning programmes.

Following my first two North Sea projects, “Starlings on Fire” {2014-2017} and “Ask The Sea” {2018-present} this new work is the third chapter in my long-term photography documentary about the incongruous relationship between the oil and gas industry and the North Sea. “Their Helicopters No Longer Sing” is centred primarily on the burgeoning end of life stage within the oil and gas industry - decommissioning and on-land dismantling.

The outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent global pandemic, initially triggered a collapse in the price of oil and further hastened a determination to divert resources towards the renewables industry. Ports and industrial yards around Scotland and northern England, traditionally associated with the construction of oil and gas installations in the 1970s, started investing, expanding and racing to develop the infrastructure to support the decommissioning, dismantling and recycling of oil and gas Production Platforms and Drilling Rigs, while simultaneously supporting the creation of offshore wind turbines. 

Using Format