The Oil & Gas industry – the past 40 years, the current market and a look to the future

Despite the drive for reduction in CO2, and to meet climate change, which will be undoubtedly a challenge for oil companies to manage going forward, I can't see at present any viable alternative to meet global energy needs other than oil and gas. The long term trends, at least for the next 50 years, I think will still involve increasing production, until there is a similar step change in renewables technology to reduce its costs and increase efficiency. This may have to involve large scale carbon sequestration, that ball is still in the court of the governments, but if that is an option taken then oil companies are likely to be the ones tasked to deliver that CO2 sequestration anyway, as they are the ones with the technology and ability to move fluids in vast volume. Any changes will likely be gradual, and oil and gas as a resource for chemicals and such will always remain.

We have been "too" successful, if anything, in meeting this global energy challenge, and in the short term the market has been oversupplied. But this will correct naturally and going forward I think there is still a very rewarding, exciting career available in oil and gas, and one that the world needs, to maintain its energy output, without which the crisis we would face would dwarf any issues of climate change in my opinion.

Professor Jonathan Redfern, Head of Petroleum Geoscience and Basin Studies research and Chair of Petroleum Geoscience at University of Manchester

We echo Professor Redfern’s statement that the oil and gas sector is one which still offers incredible opportunity, from travelling the world to the chance to help discover new techniques and help keep the world’s energy lines open. It’s a demanding but rewarding career, and we thoroughly recommend it.

We also agree with his comments on the future of oil and gas. There has not been, to date, a viable alternative to oil and gas, and it’s difficult to imagine our global dependence on it waning. Moving forward, the key challenges for companies will be to reduce costs, adhere to environmental standards, and continue to discover new methods, all while achieving high levels of efficiency. A steep challenge, but the talent in this sector is second to none.”


Petroplan’s experience in the oil and gas industry spans four decades and in that time we’ve borne witness to fantastic successes, difficult challenges, controversies and huge changes. The oil and gas industry has transformed the kinds of jobs we recruit for compared to when we began – so what have the last 40 years looked like, and how do we envisage the next 40?

The oil and gas industry is of incredible value to the UK and its economy. 1 in every 80 jobs is provided by the sector (450,000 people alone are employed in the extraction of North Sea oil) and the UK enjoys a stellar reputation worldwide for its work in this industry.

Celebrating the past and present

It’s not just our 40th anniversary this year - North Sea oil celebrated its 40th birthday in 2015 too. The first oil was produced off the coast of Scotland a year before Petroplan was established – 1975 – and since then more than £1.4 trillion worth of oil has been pumped.

Writing about the North Sea oil industry last year, Daily Telegraph commodities editor Andrew Critchlow explained its value to the UK in that our ability to “afford a free-to-access National Health Service” is convincingly linked to the revenue generated from North Sea oil, and commented on the long-term success of Royal Dutch Shell and BP, two of the largest companies in the FTSE 100.

There’s been an undeniable dip in the oil industry over the past few years, with estimates showing that the majority of reserves in the North Sea have already been extracted. Official figures suggest that more than three quarters of the available oil and gas in this area had been extracted by the end of 2010.

As well as this, despite a fall in North Sea oil production levels and peak prices a thing of the past, confidence in the sector remains with the chief executive of Total Patrick Pouyanne stating in May 2016 that “there is a future for the North Sea, no doubt about it”.

"there is a future for the North Sea, no doubt about it"

Patrick Pouyanne, Chief Executive, Total


Worldwide, the oil and gas industry sector remains incredibly lucrative. More than four billion metric tonnes of oil are produced annually worldwide by leading producers Saudi Arabia, Russia and the US, followed by China, Iran, Canada and Venezuela. The top three producers kick out more than 40 million barrels of oil every single day, with the US consuming 25% of this.

Falling prices, job instability and a battle to position oil and gas as a viable option compared to renewables have certainly impacted the oil and gas industry over the past decade, but we believe the sector is better placed than ever to move into the next 40 years with confidence and success. So how do the next four decades shape up?

A look to the oil and gas industry future

Although the older oil industry fields in the North Sea are not as lucrative as they once were, they are expected to yield oil for the next quarter of a century. Globally, the need for oil is still growing and companies have to balance this demand for more oil with potentially diminishing supplies.

Oil and gas industry reserves by nation

Key: All oil numbers are in million barrels (MMbbl), gas numbers are in trillion cubic feet (Tcf)

Petroplan World Map

Statistic source:

Map depicts the world’s top ten oil and gas industry producing countries, with countries 10 to 20 shown in the table


In order to be counted towards the world’s oil and gas reserves, fossil fuels must be recoverable under current operating conditions and economic constraints. This means the order of the world’s largest producers of both oil and gas is liable to quickly change. This map shows the current top 10 countries by proven oil and gas reserves, using figures from 2015.

The largest oil reserves actually collectively belong to OPEC, which has proven reserves of 1,206.00 billion barrels. More than 80% of the world’s oil is to be found in OPEC member nations.


  • US
  • Kazakhstan
  • China
  • Qatar
  • Brazil
  • Algeria
  • Mexico
  • Angola
  • Ecuador
  • Azerbaijan


  • 37 MMbbl
  • 30 MMbbl
  • 25 MMbbl
  • 25 MMbbl
  • 15 MMbbl
  • 12 MMbbl
  • 9.8 MMbbl
  • 9 MMbbl
  • 8.8 MMbbl
  • 7 MMbbl


  • 338 Tcf
  • 85 Tcf
  • 164 Tcf
  • 872 Tcf
  • 16 Tcf
  • 159 Tcf
  • 17 Tcf
  • 9.7 Tcf
  • .2 Tcf
  • 35 Tcf

It’s likely that in future oil fields will be designed to be used for longer and their longevity will be boosted by an injection of water or gas into the oil supply to enhance its pressure. Decommissioning is also set to be a focus for the next 40 years – figures suggest that by the 2050s some 470 platforms, 6,000 miles of pipeline and 5,000 wells will need to be removed from the North Sea, as well as the estimated 40,000 concrete blocks that help to keep offshore operations steady. Decommissioning itself could open up an area of employment for those entering the sector or seeking a new challenge.

The heavy oil contained in oil sands has recently become part of the estimation when global oil reserves are reported on. It is likely that as exploration into this kind of oil begins in earnest, the extraction of it will become less labour intensive, more environmentally friendly and cost effective.

Fracking and embracing new technology

Fracking has certainly received its fair share of negative press, intensified by misinformed comments about the potential risks it poses, but remains a vital part of our oil and gas industry future. Fracking is commonplace in the US, where it is responsible for around half of the oil and gas produced in the industry.

The technique still remains controversial in the UK, but the government has issued 100 licenses to firms allowing them to pursue fracking in certain areas. These include parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, while a consultation on opening up a further 5,000 square miles of viable fracking territory is ongoing.

Several US analysts have predicted 2017 to be a year of significant recovery in the oil and gas industry sector, with hopes for cashflow surges of as much as 60% in the US and a drive to reboot idle oil patches into action.

British analyst Dieter Helm believes Iran and Iraq’s potential to increase their output could impact the market moving forward, and touched on the impact of a global move towards shale technology in an April 2016 report. He noted that in under 10 years, shale oil and gas industry developments have transformed the US market, and there is a chance the US could become energy independent by the 2020s. In Helm’s view, “abundant cheap fossil fuels are back” and there is “enormous potential” in the Arctic.

Others think a defined outlook is the way forward. In a 2016 oil and gas industry trends report, PriceWaterhouseCoopers urged oil and gas industry companies to hone their approach to strategy, aiming for definition rather than a broad business model. They used the example of traditional downstream specialists dabbling in upstream activities and having “unsatisfactory experiences”.

Oil and gas firms are advised to avoid arbitrary cost cutting, and pursue a way to balance the production of competitively priced oil with carbon footprint reductions. PriceWaterhouseCoopers also advised that new technologies can help to minimise costs and reduce emissions – the report used an example of BP adopting drone technology for the inspection of a remote pipeline in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay.

The next 40 years will be decades shaped by change and new challenges. If the oil and gas industry sector can achieve the balance between competitive pricing, investment in new technology and a defined business focus, there’s no reason why we can’t all move forward and continue to prosper.

Here’s to the next exciting half century.

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