Cruden Bay and the history of the oil industry

Doric TV has produced a trio of fascinating short videos marking both 50 years since plans to bring North Sea oil to shore at Cruden Bay by pipeline were announced, and 100 years since the first onshore oil field was discovered in Scotland.

By Cameron Laing, retired petroleum engineer
Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 9:01 am
"You’ll not find oil in these rocks - but this Bay of Cruden is a perfect place to bring a pipeline ashore “
"You’ll not find oil in these rocks - but this Bay of Cruden is a perfect place to bring a pipeline ashore “

The videos also welcome the current Energy Transition, reflect on energy transitions of the past and showcase the scenery of Cruden Bay.

This Doric TV video takes the viewer on a journey over the past 100 years of energy transitions with a particular focus on how we came to look for oil in and around the UK; initially onshore during the First World War, and then offshore in the 60s, before, in 1975, Cruden Bay became the arrival location of the first North Sea oil delivered by pipeline to the UK.

Today, the Buchan countryside is underlain by a remarkable network of energy arteries. Known as the Aberdeenshire Energy Corridor and The Hydrogen Coast, there are exciting new developments planned. From new high voltage subsea electrical distribution lines to major carbon capture and storage schemes, Buchan is the place where it is happening.

Cameron visits the Oil pumping station, near Cruden Bay

While following a historical timeline, the story uses the stunning natural beauty of the area, and the backdrop of the sea itself, to link whalers to windfarms; and the ruins of the past to glimpses of the future. An iconic castle and a glorious golf course have left their mark on the land, but the Forties Pipeline System has remained virtually invisible for almost 50 years now.

Even one of the most important industrial sites for the UK economy, the Forties Pipeline System pumping station, presents a relatively low-key presence, nestled in among the small farms to the south of the bay where crops and livestock continue to thrive as they have for generations in the Northeast of Scotland.

People are of course an important thread in the story, from farmers and seafarers to prominent men and women of the day who left their names on well-known Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire buildings, in part enabled by oil wealth generated long before North Sea oil was ever dreamed of.

Scots, indeed, have been notable pioneers in that worldwide industry, yet it is not well known that the first oil exploration well in Scotland was drilled, and its first oil discovery was made, 100 years ago. Many will also be surprised that the work was sponsored by the UK government and with an Aberdeenshire landowner as the drilling contractor. Now we look to the UK Government again to lead us in another energy transition.

The video starts at Slains Castle and provides a short introduction to its history.

When international oil companies like BP, Shell, Philips, Amoco, Hamilton Brothers and even Scots company Burmah (the parent of BP and older than Standard Oil or Shell), were announcing discoveries and field development plans in the 1970s the news was enthusiastically welcomed by a nation struggling from one financial crisis to the next.

Now, people campaign to have oil and natural gas production shut down, despite the fact that it has benefited mankind for millennia, from mummifying Egyptian kings and giving us Vaseline to help heal our skinned knees as kids, to powering industrial revolutions.

People forget how it displaced the more environmentally harmful energy sources of whale and seal oil, coal & coal gas, wood, and peat. There is often also a failure to recognise how relatively recent is our awareness of the consequences of our consumption of oil and gas, and their multiplicity of cheap and useful derivative products, and how it impacts the global warming phenomenon.

Change is coming, and new technologies are being developed at pace, but the effort required in turning our personal, national and global energy consumption patterns around is truly and historically enormous.

Locally, however, the “Black, Black Oil”, unlike “The Cheviot” and “The Stag” has not had the immediately detrimental impact on the populace suggested by John McGrath’s ground-breaking piece of theatre-cum-ceilidh that had its public premiere in Aberdeen in the 1973.

Likewise, the true “Local Hero”, unlike that of Bill Forsyth’s famous 1983 film, is flying offshore in a helicopter through winter snowstorms and landing on an offshore platform that is sometimes shaken by 50ft waves. They do it so that we might have our cosy gas central heating in place of smoky coal and peat fires and our farmers might drive tractors with heated cabs rather than walk behind horses in the mud as the rain lashes down like they did 100 years ago.

But all that drama seems unimaginable as we stroll peacefully along the beach and clifftop pathways on a sunny day in Cruden Bay, with only a gentle breeze and the playful squawking of nesting seabirds as a minimalist soundtrack to our journey.

Let’s embrace this current energy transition, but let’s not disrespect those who developed the North Sea oil industry. Let’s also acknowledge that the energy options that will form our future are only possible because of their efforts. As Isaac Newton is quoted as saying, ‘If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’

And maybe, sometime in the future, we’ll have a historical marker in Cruden Bay remembering the age of oil and the giant step made by the Forties Pipeline in bringing North Sea Oil safely to these shores.

The videos can be viewed at