I was very pleased to be asked to give this Keynote Speech because, although I am here today as Chairman of the UKOOA Diving Advisory Committee, we in Shell UK Exploration and Production attach a great deal of importance to the development of Remotely Controlled Technology for use in working underwater.
The recovery of hydrocarbons from offshore sites has been taking place around the world for a number of years, and the offshore oil and gas industry can be justifiably proud that it has promoted some highly innovative developments in technology. However I believe that it is the North Sea which has promoted the most significant developments, and nowhere has the thrust for innovation been greater than in the area of Underwater Engineering. With the possible exception of South America it may be argued that the vast majority of offshore developments to the end of this century will be in water depths less than 200 metres, which is where the predominant number of prospects on the North West European Continental Shelf are. Therefore the technology developed here has applications world-wide.
The introduction of Remotely Controlled Technology into underwater operations on a broad scale has long been recognised as the next challenge to be met in innovation, and this session today is both an acknowledgement of that challenge and a demonstration that it continues to be accepted. However it is already apparent that achieving the total automation of subsea tasks is neither a simple nor a short-term project. We as an industry have been treading this path since the Bondi Initiative of the late 19701s, and those successes which have been achieved are in discrete areas of technology and were aimed at resolving specific problems. The total replacement of the diver by remotely controlled systems, as envisaged by Sir Herman Bondi, is not much closer to being achieved now than it was some 10 years ago.
I ask you to consider why this should be so. The success of specific developments to date demonstrates that there is a high level of talent available, with the knowledge and experience required to meet the challenges of the future. Equally it has been shown that funding can be made available where the need for a specific area of development can be identified.
However both of these resources are finite in quantity, and must be used to the best advantage of the industry as a whole if Remotely Controlled Technology is to be developed to it's full potential. BY this I mean that the resources should not be employed in duplicating the efforts of others, nor on developments which have only a limited application. We must also strike the correct balance between speculative innovation and simple common-sense engineering development.
A fast-growing trend towards sub-sea field developments will continue to encourage a variety of new engineering solutions to be pursued, and I believe that we must seize this opportunity to concentrate our efforts and resources for the general good of the industry.