Aberdeen – A Solid City

By Sharon Black

The ‘Granite City’ in the North East of Scotland is the place for Service-leavers to relocate if they’re serious about a career in oil and gas. Civvy Street explores the reasons why.


Aberdeen is the energy capital of Europe. Access, through Aberdeen, to the oil fields of the North Sea means that it’s a place of real importance within the British economy. The afterglow of this influence also means that it’s a very comfortable place for Service-leavers to relocate to.


The UK has benefitted from the abundance of oil and gas from the North Sea since the mid 1960’s but things really started to step up during the next decade and it is said that since the mid 1970’s around 40 billion barrels of oil have been extracted from the UK Continental Shelf. Around 450,000 people across the UK are employed in the oil and gas industry and that it’s worth £6.5bn in tax to the Government annually. Although the 450,000 don’t all live in Aberdeen, it remains the first city of the UK’s energy industry and hugely important to the whole country.


Reliance on energy

It goes without saying that our reliance on energy means that the North Sea is a cornerstone to our way of life; so-much-so that if there wasn’t a future in North Sea energy extraction, we would have to invent it. In some senses this is exactly what is happening at the moment.


Oil and gas are finite resources and they will run out. The challenge is twofold for the energy industry in that it firstly needs to make sure that current extraction is effective and efficient and that it will ensure that our return from the North Sea is maximised, but it also needs to find new ways of meeting future energy needs. In either case, because the energy companies are rooted firmly in Aberdeen, the future of the city as a working hub seems assured. I should also point out that the natural resources aren’t likely to dry up any time this week, so no need to fill the car up just yet.


Aberdeen’s location by the North Sea means that more projects based around renewable energy sources such as wind and wave power, as well as new forms of extraction that were previously unfeasible, are likely to be based there. An example of this is extracting ‘subsea oil’ that was literally out of reach in the deeper water environments of the North Sea until now, when we are able to use more advanced technology to find and harvest it.


Further exploration and opportunity

The appetite for exploration and extraction in the North Sea through Aberdeen shows no real sign of diminishing with the likes of Shell recently reaffirming its commitment, saying that it will invest about $2bn a year in the region over the next few years, particularly in big projects like Clair and Schiehallion, two big oil fields west of Shetland that are operated by BP. Recoverable oil reserves of Schiehallion are estimated to be between 450 to 600 million barrels, so it’s probably worth their while and is a great example of how vibrant the industry is.


Of course, that only outlines the activities of two of the companies involved in North Sea extraction. Keep in mind that there are around 1,000 companies based in the oil and gas industry in Aberdeen and you get some idea of the scale of interest involved. The BBC reported recently that some estimates indicate that there are around 24 billion barrels of North Sea oil waiting to be extracted. Naturally, where there’s such untapped wealth, there’s plenty of scope for employment, and it seems a certainty that the energy sector will provide the lion’s share of the city’s career opportunities and prestige in the foreseeable future.


Service-leavers thinking of relocating to Aberdeen in order to build a new career in oil and gas need not have worries on that score. Although Aberdeen is often described in terms of its connection with primary industry and natural resources it certainly isn’t some kind of lawless frontier ‘gold rush’ town with the sort of here today, gambled away tomorrow economy you might envisage. For one thing, the granite with which the city is proudly built is a very permanent statement of power that pre-dates the energy sector by a century – no, Aberdeen is certainly here to stay.


Comfortable lifestyle

Furthermore, the kind of lifestyle that Service-leavers can expect is renowned as being comfortable, if not ‘gentrified’. Aberdeen is Scotland’s third most populous city and has to be one of the most cosmopolitan in the whole of the UK – not least because of the international draw for energy companies. It has quietly collected plenty of accolades over the years as being a great place to live and work as well as to the general happiness of its residents. Perhaps underlining levels of satisfaction is that Aberdeen has one of the lowest crime rates of any city in the UK and is a very safe place to live. In fact it seems that the only jeopardy or risk is faced by those that choose to work off-shore, using Aberdeen as a base.


Perhaps, as a result of the inherent energy industry, Aberdeen can be regarded as an ‘expensive city’ although the higher than average wages mean that it works out at quite a comfortable rate. In fact, the average wage in Aberdeen is three times that found in Manchester or Birmingham.


Curiously, during the recession, whilst other cities didn’t fare well, Aberdeen appeared to show immunity to the economic downturn. The energy sector is, after all, a constant player that cannot be substituted. Perhaps that’s why Aberdeen’s Union Street has become one of the UK’s premier shopping destinations and home to more than a few prestigious brands with plenty more choice found within the three shopping malls located within the immediate vicinity.


Living well

With all that hustle and bustle there needs to be some kind of relaxation valve. Indeed, a short distance out of the city you’ll find beautiful Scottish countryside and the boyish pleasure derived from admiring the castle – and the rather more refined (and adult) pleasure derived from following the whisky trails.


From a practical perspective Aberdeen also offers excellent infrastructure, including regular train services to Glasgow and Edinburgh, with Aberdeen International Airport just 15 minutes outside of the city centre. The Aberdeen Royal Infirmary is NHS Grampian’s largest hospital and is supported by specialist paediatrics and maternity hospitals.


Aberdeen also hosts a good range of educational facilities from nurseries right through to the two excellent universities: Scotland’s third oldest, Aberdeen University and Robert Gordon University, renowned for being a modern and dynamic institution.


Yes or no?

The big issue on the horizon for people considering a move to Aberdeen might well be Scottish independence (with the vote taking place later this month) and what that would mean to the oil and gas industry. The fact is that a ‘yes’ vote (for independence) would in some small way affect everyone in the UK and whilst Shell’s Chief Executive, Ben van Beurden has said that “Shell would prefer it if Scotland remained part of the UK” it isn’t for fear of some kind of armed stand-off or situation where the English would try to siphon off the black gold under cover of night; it’s more that any disruption due to transition wouldn’t be good for business, but then, when you’re making around £4.5billion per quarter, how bad can it be?