I’ve just returned to Michigan after a short trip off-shore. This last trip was to Scotland, the first time that I have been ‘home’ for almost exactly a year. The ship was working out of Invergordon, a small port on the Moray Firth, not that far from the town that I grew up in. Moored in the waters leading into Invergordon are more than a handful of Idle Oil rigs, some just laid-up, waiting hopefully for their next contract, others at the end of their working life being de-commissioned A lot has happened in the year since I was last in Scotland, especially in the Oil and Oil Support industries. A year ago, the price of crude oil was almost $120/barrel, in the last 12 months it has plummeted to under $50/barrel.
For most people, this is great news, it means that gas for their cars is cheaper, prices in the stores should be cheaper, lower airfares for holidays. Even those of us who work in the industry don’t mind the lower prices when crude drops a little. But with prices at less than 50% of what they were, the knock-on effects are huge. Oil companies themselves start to tighten their belts; no new exploration or drilling, new developments are put on hold, only those projects that are already close to completion continue – on the premise that when so much money has already been invested then it’s silly not to complete them and start to get some return, however ‘small’ on their out-lay. Even routine maintenance is cut back to save on costs.
Hardest hit are the support companies, the ones that exist to supply services to the BP’s the Shell’s and the Exxon’s that they can’t (or wont) do ‘in-house’. And that is where I am, along with many workers from my home area. Now facing an uncertain future, wondering if our industry can stagger along until the price of crude starts to creep up again, will we be able to cling on to our livelihoods, or is a change of vocation on the cards, forced or other wise. The effect on whole communities can be devastating, as, one way or another, so much of the money generated in them comes either directly or indirectly from the “black gold”.
For myself, I know that in a short time, I’m going back off-shore, on a new vessel, a new position as a “mentor’ to a Brazilian crew working on this ship for Brazil’s national oil company Petrobras. What I don’t know of course, is how long that will last. Is it the twilight for my career, or just the darkness before a new dawn?