PESGB Member, Mike Shepherd to present at Edinburgh Book Festival next week!
My book on the history of North Sea oil, Oil Strike North Sea was published by Luath Press last September, and will be presented at the Edinburgh International Book festival in August. In view of this, the PESGB have asked me to give an account of how I came to write it.
My recent literary efforts started when Aberdeen local historian Diane Morgan asked me to contribute a chapter to her book, Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens. I had been recently involved in a campaign to save the city centre gardens from being built over and she asked me to explain the background to what proved to be a major controversy in Aberdeen. This inspired me to write my own history book. The North Sea oil business was an obvious topic, given that I’ve worked as a petroleum geologist for over thirty years and indeed saw big oil coming to my home town of Aberdeen as a teenager.
The history of North Sea oil is not a subject over-endowed with books. The large Scottish section at Blackwell’s bookshop in Edinburgh displays books on all aspects of Scottish history, including whaling and the coal industry, even the history of Scottish oil shale, yet North Sea oil barely registers amongst the titles.
The topic is complex and multi-disciplinary and this may have possibly scared off the non-insider from tackling it. As it is, my version of the story spends a large part of the narrative explaining the context to the non-specialist – this is unavoidable. An early decision was also made to write the book in thematic chapters loosely organised as a historical timeline. This allowed me to throw in numerous anecdotes from my own experience and adds a human element to the story.
One of the selling points to my publisher on submitting the book was that North Sea oil is one of the most dramatic stories to have happened in the UK outside the general sphere of war. It wouldn’t be difficult to write a lively account and that proved to be the case. As I mentioned in the introduction, it’s:
‘a story of big money, big engineering, a few spectacular failures and many great achievements….’
But, more than this, the development of North Sea oil was one of the biggest engineering challenges in recent history anywhere:
‘The North Sea proved to be a new frontier for the oil companies when they first arrived. They had been offshore before elsewhere in the world, but never in waters quite so stormy or deep. They would try their existing technologies at first, but these were put to severe test and often failed. New ways of doing things were needed if the oil was ever going to be recovered and given the specific problems they faced, the engineering required was colossal. With an effort on this scale, the North Sea oil industry has proved to be a major and tremendously exciting episode of both UK and Scottish history.’
This is undeniably true and I will add that every one of us should be proud of our contribution in making North Sea oil happen. In particular, the key roles of geology and geophysics occupy centre stage in the book, and if I have made what we do accessible to the general public then this has been a worthwhile exercise in itself.
Oil Strike North Sea will be presented at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on Monday 15 August at 7.15pm
Mike Shepherd has also written a textbook – Oil Field Production Geology, published by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists