Another Offshore Europe (OE) is behind us in Aberdeen and the passing of the 50th anniversary event of 2023 into the history books gives me a chance to reflect on its impact on the city.
I don’t mean the injection of cash into north-east bars, restaurants, hotels and taxi operators, though the estimated £50 million kick-back is certainly not to be sniffed at.
Rather, I am fascinated by how the event is evolving against the backdrop of a rapidly changing climate for the oil and gas industry.
The sector is not only grappling with issues of taxation, policymaking and public perceptions, but a pressing environmental challenge too.
We know where our energy comes from, and where oil and gas fits in
However, this great driver of regional economic growth has a key role to play in the energy transition.
Most of us in the north-east understand this well. I’m not so sure the same can be said for people in other parts of the UK, many of whom actually have no idea where the electricity comes from to switch on their lights, or how they have petrol for their cars.
These folk are more inclined to swallow the message that we should switch off oil and gas production overnight. They may also be inclined to vote for parties promising that.
Which brings me to the first of my two key takeaways from OE 2023 – where were all the climate change protestors? Like many others, I expected the Granite City to be awash with them. I thought getting around the city, and particularly to and from P&J Live, where the show took place, would be fraught with protest-related challenges.
But there was little sign of Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil, Greenpeace or anyone else to remind us the planet is teetering on the brink of environmental catastrophe.
Maybe they’ve decided blockading motorways in the south of England or disrupting supplies of petrol to garage forecourts across the land are far more effective in getting their message across to the Great British Public than playing dead outside P&J Live.
Or maybe, as someone suggested to me last week, big daddy Greenpeace has pulled rank and curtailed activities after being told by prime minister Rishi Sunak he wouldn’t speak to them.
Whatever the reason, OE 2023 went ahead swimmingly, with no disruptions.
It’s not an oil and gas show
My second and probably more important takeway was the reality hitting me like a ton of bricks that OE can no longer be accurately referred to as an oil and gas show. I must confess I’ve described it in such terms a few times.
But wandering around the exhibition stands at P&J Live I was struck by how the event has become a showcase for all kinds of renewable energy technologies, alongside oil and gas. Perhaps the organisers of the annual All-Energy event – born in Aberdeen but controversially transplanted to Glasgow some years ago – might consider a merger?
I found this truly symbolic of the north-east’s energy transition journey. I well remember the relatively small gatherings in the early days of All-Energy, when renewables was in the “twee” category, lacking much credibility in the overall business of fueling the nation. We’ve come a long way.
Wandering the show hall at OE, it was impossibe not to notice how green energy is now front and centre of mind for people whose careers to date have been focused on oil and gas.
I well remember the relatively small gatherings in the early days of All-Energy, when renewables was in the ‘twee’ category.”
It speaks volumes for how Aberdeen should no longer be thought of as the oil and gas capital of Europe. The city has made leaps and bounds along the transition road to being an all-energy capital of Europe. We’ve all got to play our part in getting that message across.
And finally, OE wouldn’t be OE without some close scrutiny of its impact on accommodation prices in and around Aberdeen during the biennial event. I’ve done several of these investigations myself in the past, exposing some truly shocking figures.
This year, it was my colleague Chris Cromar who rose to the challenge and revealed an eye-watering £700 per night for one hotel room and £349 for another with no windows.
Some things never change do they? Just over 12 years ago another colleague, Rebecca Buchan, reported hotels inflating their normal prices by more than 800% during OE.
A year later I reported Budget chain Travelodge offering rooms in its Aberdeen hotels at nearly £260 a night for the week of OE 2013, compared with under £90 one week later.
Aberdeen homeowners have also been keen over the years to cash in on the influx of visitors during OE week. In 2009 we reported how dozens were advertising accommodation to let, with one advertisement offering a two-bedroom flat for £1,200.
Some OE visitors still being fleeced
Chris’s report of hotels hiking up their prices this year is disappointing, and shows people are still being fleeced because of that age-old excuse of supply and demand.
It was perhaps less surprising a decade ago, when there were not so many hotels in Aberdeen and visitors attending OE had to find accommodation as far away as Dundee.
One other big OE change to mention is the lack of big contract announcements or other “hard” news these days. It’s now all about the networking experience.
Certainly, the chance to mingle again following a four-year gap, due to Covid, was appreciated by all and everyone I spoke to said the mood was positive. I wonder what OE 2025 will bring.