Small companies have been the source of much of the innovation that has helped to develop the North Sea. They have relied on the support, both financial and risk taking, of the oil companies to bring their ideas to the market. Much has been spoken and written about the changes in the mode of working in the North Sea and the increasing contracting out by oil companies, which comes in the various guides of partnering, partnerships, alliances, risk sharing and performance related contracts, MMSC contracts etc. All have certain common features, such as being large contracts with large companies for lengthy periods, possibly for the life of a field, and require some acceptance of risk by the contractor. There is now a question as to who will supply that support, Will the new buyers adopt this role, or will they stay with the tried and tested to minimise their own risks? CRINE also suggests standardisation which by definition kills innovation. Will this mean that no new small companies emerge and many existing ones go to the wall? Will this secure the future? Apart from a few expressions of good intent, for example, at the 1994 CRINE Conference, little has been said about the issues that these changes bring for small companies. These issues exist across the whole spectrum of the oil industry, but this paper looks at one area of activity which has largely developed in the North Sea, and which is one that has offered real hopes of exports - underwater operations, The issues facing three different types of small company are examined - one product development, one services, and one consultant engineering, The conclusion is that SMEs can survive CRINE, but only if they and the market adjust to the new circumstances.

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