Oil and gas in Aberdeen’s built environment

I moved to Aberdeen at the end of March for work. Although the city was not entirely new to me – being the nearest thing resembling a city when I was growing up – I had never quite appreciated the extent to which oil and gas permeates the everyday built environment. Over the last six weeks I’ve seen all sorts of weird and wonderful things, that no doubt seem completely logical and sensible within the confines of Aberdeen. Here are just a few of them…

1. Graphics of oil platforms at the train station

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Ignoring the dubious grammar, this is a remarkable sign. Trains to and from Aberdeen are populated with men (they are almost exclusively male) wearing branded jackets and carrying long waterproof holdalls. On the way up, the train is quiet and dry – everyone is going out to see the next day and needs to be breathalysed. On the way down, though, the departure of the train from Platform 6 is accompanied by a chorus of cracking cans as everyone toasts the end of another stint at sea. The silhouette of the oil platform leaves no doubt as to what sector of employment this bar in the station is targeting.

2. Schools for families of oil workers

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Total, the big French oil company, sponsor a French school not far from my home. It is an independent school for the families of French oil workers based in the city, and offers francophone and anglophone education. The fact Total established a school in Aberdeen serves as a pretty good indication of how many workers they have based in the city and how important they consider the welfare of their employees’ families.

3. Advertisements for oil and gas things

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This is a billboard for Health and Safety training. Why? Because Aberdeen. Off the top of my head I can think of no other place where there would be sufficient demand for health and safety courses to warrant a fifteen foot wide billboard, and yet it makes perfect sense within the confines of Aberdeen. Having said that, the stringent safety requirements for working offshore – and the plethora of businesses that have sprung up around them – did come in handy when I needed a full medical as a prerequisite for upcoming fieldwork. After a few phone calls I was able to arrange a medical at 48 hours’ notice at reasonable cost. Only in Aberdeen.

4. Sponsorship

IMG_0338This is the sponsor board at Aberdeen Maritime Museum. I think there might be a common theme here, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. The Maritime Museum charts all aspects of Aberdeen’s long historical relationship with the sea – from fisheries to cruise liners – but pride of place goes to the high-tech oil and gas exhibits. You can see model bunk beds, watch a 3D film about life offshore, and pilot not one but two ROV simulators. There is also a full-scale model of an oil platform and its subsurface infrastructure:

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5. Infrastructure and housing

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This is the small community of Footdee (pronounced Fit-ee) right by Aberdeen Harbour, and those are tanks right next to houses. That’s right, a row of big tanks just metres from people’s dwellings, as you do. The sight of gas tanks towering over fishers’ cottages and massive ships rumbling through the channel at the end of the narrow alleys really gives a sense of how the emergence of extractive industries came in stark contrast to what had gone before in Aberdeen.

6. Models of oil platforms

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There are models of oil rigs EVERYWHERE in Aberdeen. This beast is located on the stairs leading up to the library at the university, and there are two just like it on the floor below. Much like the ‘Got Oil’ mugs and sweatshirts at Calgary Airport, I was surprised to see these being so brazenly displayed in the corridors (even if the scale modeler inside me was very impressed with the quality of the construction and hugely tempted to try to land a remote-control helicopter on the scale helipad).

Just from looking at the physical built environment, the embeddedness of the oil and gas industry not just in Aberdeen’s economy, but in the city’s culture and mentality, is clear to see. With the news that the All Energy renewable conference is going to be moving to Glasgow for a few years, one really has to wonder what the city will look like as oil and gas production inevitably declines and all these pieces of infrastructure start to disappear. What will be left, and what if anything will replace oil and gas?

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