The Magazine for Underwater Professionals
Since my last column I have turned markedly more pessimistic on Britain’s economic and political outlook. Of course, I was delighted by the Scottish referendum result, but fear the attempt to stop Scottish MPs voting on solely English matters will be very long drawn out. Although I remain a supporter of the EEC, I am appalled by a recent decision; namely the plan to penalise the UK by a “fine” of GB£1.74 billion. The continued weakness of the world oil price, with America producing more and more shale gas, is likely to lead to a slow down on spending by oil companies, though there have been some significant recent finds. The narrow re-election in Brazil of President Rousseff is unlikely to solve the many problems facing Petrobras.
On my birthday in October I was invited to speak at the Underwater Works conference in Gdynia, Poland, on diver training and safety around the world. It was the second such conference, and was attended by more than 70 delegates and managed to cram in a wide range of subjects in a day. I was invited by Krzysztof Stopierznski, who I had met at Fort William and who translated my praise of the UK’s diver training and safety record, which contrasts well with that in America, the Middle East and most of mainland Europe. I was last in Poland in 2005, when I visited the BCN Explorer training school and dived in the recently developed Gorski helmet. I was delighted to share not only the platform but also birthdays with Lezsek Gorski, who invited me to Florida to try out the much-improved version of his helmet; he is now working for Aqualung. I was reminded when I flew into Lech Walesa airport of meeting a member of Solidarity at an SDP party conference.
The UK’s Conservative party must be bitterly regretting that they refused to adopt a change in the UK voting system, which would have meant that the Labour party would have found it almost impossible to obtain an overall majority. If it had been in place in the 1980s I might well have become the SDP Member of Parliament for Taunton and not got involved in diving; so perhaps some good has resulted from the failure. It seems likely that no party will again have an overall majority after the May 2015 election, although my union leader, Len McCluskey is helping the Conservatives by saying in a radio interview that it “wouldn’t matter if Ed Miliband was run over by a bus”. Labour is likely to do badly in Scotland and, unless Prime Minister Cameron manages to obtain some concessions from the EEC, the United Kingdom Independence Party may well win a number of seats. Chaos is likely to follow, with an inability for the UK to be able to reduce its borrowings and our economy hampered by the failure of the euro countries to expand.
Cheaper gas is likely to undercut heavily subsidised wind farms for years to come. An energy analyst at Liberum Capital describes green energy as an “increasingly bad gamble”, but at least the EEC is not forcing the UK to build wind farms to meet its emission target by 2020. A UK turbine parts maker has recently closed due to lack of orders. The well-respected Adam Smith Institute has said wind farms can never be relied upon to keep the lights on, due to their huge variation in output. Wind turbines, it is reported, are proving fatal to bats and making some who live near turbines become deaf. I hope the Liberum analyst is leaving out of his view on green energy tidal and wave power, which is becoming increasingly successful and cheaper. The Prudential Insurance Company is to become a key investor in the GB£1 billion tidal power station in Swansea Bay and who knows, further up the Severn a barrage may be built. The MeyGen tidal stream project, which will generate enough energy for 175,000 Scottish homes, has been given the go ahead.
On a more positive note, there have been a number of significant finds recently, including ones by BP in the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico and Ophir off Gabon. Decommissioning of offshore structures, including wind turbines, after 20 years, (GB£14.6 billion over the next 10 years) is likely to produce profitable work. Petrofac, after a hiccup in growth, is making much more cheerful forecasts and the John Wood group remains very positive. Sadly the highly successful Hallin Marine is to be closed down by its new American owner, Superior Energy Services. The good news is that its founder, John Giddens, has re-entered the industry with the building of a 105-metre diving and ROV support vessel.
The news on the diver safety front is much less good, although the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers has reported a drop in fatalities from 88 in 2012 to 80 last year and the American Association of Diving Contractors International has reported that the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration has ruled that all deaths and serious injuries must be reported. Worldwide however, commercial diving deaths remain unacceptably high. Sadly, in the case of the death of a British diver who I knew well, it is proving very hard to get the evidence from mainland Europe, where he was killed, to enable an inquest to be held. Mark Longstreath, on his Commercial Diving Directory website, has done sterling work producing lists of divers killed around the world. So far 34 divers have been killed this year, including recently yet another diver on scuba in the Middle East. Four abalone divers have died off the coast of America. Sadly, American rules on commercial diving are still too lax and it is hard to obtain all the facts.