North Sea employment is set to boom this year. Up to 50,000 new jobs are expected in Britain's oil and gas industry, according to analysis by a leading industry headhunter.
The jobs bonanza will span from drillers and engineers to geologists, parts-makers and support-services staff and will take the total number employed in the UK portion of the North Sea to nearly half a million.
"There's been a lot of talk about the North Sea being in decline but employment is booming at the moment," said Kevin Forbes, chief executive of Oil and Gas People, the business behind the research. "Decommissioning projects are taking off as they come to the end of their life. At the same time, the consistently high oil price, tax changes and new technology have made it economically viable to extend the life of exiting projects and start new ones," he added.
Further down the line, Britain's nascent shale-gas industry could potentially add a further 35,000 jobs in the next two to three years, Mr Forbes said, citing recent research from the Institute of Directors.
The expansion has been spurred by record-breaking levels of investment, with about £40bn set to be ploughed into North Sea production in the next three years. Norway's Statoil will be the biggest creator of employment after agreeing last month the largest development in the North Sea for a decade – a £4.3bn investment in the Mariner field, 93 miles east of the Shetland Isles, that will create more than 700 jobs and produce oil for 30 years.
The surge in investment comes after the Government relaxed the tax regime around North Sea development, prompting a record-breaking licensing round when the Department of Energy and Climate Change awarded 167 new licences on 330 blocks last October.
Although North Sea production will never return to the giddy heights of 1999 when daily output was 4.5m barrels, the expansion should help lift it from last year's level of around 2m barrels. On the downside, with massive investment elsewhere, the North Sea will have to compete for employees, pushing the average wage above its present £64,000, already more than twice the national average.