In Economic assets and infrastructure

It’s been a busy start to March for the region’s energy sector, with some real positives on the agenda for both immediate and longer-term growth.

More than 600 delegates from the worldwide industry were in Gateshead for the NOF annual energy conference at Sage Gateshead on Wednesday, March 10. Although Durham-based NOF badges this as a national conference, it attracts international attendees including delegations from Brazil, Canada and Oklahoma in the US.

The energy industry is a strong sectoral community that supports a lot of jobs in the North East. It’s also one that we’re really well-positioned to benefit from in the future, whether that’s oil and gas, offshore renewables or nuclear. Offshore engineering is one of the LEP’s smart specialisation areas and we’re investing heavily into the riverside infrastructure through the Enterprise Zones adjacent to the rivers Tyne, Wear and Blyth. This excellent deep-water access is vital for companies in the offshore sector.

Some of the NOF conference delegates were able to see our Tyneside facilities first hand, on an Invest North East England-hosted trip along the river. It was a well-received tour, which showcased some of the Tyne’s capabilities and some of the Enterprise Zone investments to a new audience.

Energy is an evolving industry and it’s vital for the region to be at the forefront of innovation if we’re to fully benefit from the more and better jobs it will create in the years ahead. The LEP is supporting the creation of the Neptune National Centre for Subsea and Offshore Engineering on the North bank of the Tyne. The centre, headed by Newcastle University, is the first of its kind in the UK and will lead the development of new technology for the industry.

We also have a very strong supply chain, which is recognised nationally and internationally. There were a lot of conversations at the NOF conference about the strength of the North East’s manufacturing and supply chain and its support of the energy sector worldwide.

We can’t ignore the downward pressure on jobs that has been caused by recent low global oil prices. The view from the NOF conference was that the industry is cyclical and these low prices are not sustainable, and that particularly offshore gas – as well as oil – still has huge growth potential. Plus, there is work available in efficiencies and decommissioning ahead of the upturn forecast by the industry. In the North East, I’m confident that in the long term, this is a sector where there are some really strong opportunities for the region.

In addition to the positives coming out of the NOF conference and some excellent forecasts of longer-term prospects for the region, we’ve also had some welcome news for the sector that will have more immediate benefit for the North East.

After a number of years of talks, the UK Round 3 offshore wind project is beginning to show significant progress with contracts starting to be placed for the planned new wind farms. Three North East companies – Tekmar, JDR Cables and Deep Ocean – are among the businesses to benefit as the programme finally gets underway.

For the oil and gas industry, it could be 12 to 18 months before we start to see signs of a major revival, but the industry is confident there are opportunities for growth on the horizon.

Andrew Hodgson is chair of the North East LEP, chief executive of subsea engineering company Soil Machine Dynamics, and chair of Subsea North East.

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