In Apocalypse Now, you know things are coming to a conclusion with the droning soundtrack of The Doors droning on.
In the case of Britain’s North Sea oil fields we are well up the river past the Play Boy bunnies and into the heart of darkness. Production had peaked a while ago and Britain is now a net importer of crude oil and natural gas.
However the departure from UK oil production of Kerr McGee, one of the North Sea’s pioneers and a stalwart in UK oil production for the past 30 years gave the signal to many that The Doors were droning through the speakers and Colonel Kurtz would soon be dead.
Pioneer producers are expected to move on to new offshore fields in the Far East, the Canadian oil sands and deep offshore fields in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving behind the oil industry hyenas like Apache or Talisman who specialise in getting the maximum financial return out of mature / declining field yields, feeding on the morsels left behind.
Every food chain needs its hyenas, but there is the fear of who is going to pay the bill for the environmental repair when the well is spent?
Kerr McGee’s departure was in part triggered by Carl Icahn the infamous ‘greenmailer’ who specialised in hostile takeover bids to improve shareholder value and is often associated with the junk bond funded excesses of the 1980s along with his peers including the likes of Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken. Kerr McGee bought Icahn off, benefiting none of the other shareholders and turning their own stock to junk status. In order to reduce its debt exposure a departure from the UK was required.
The name Kerr McGee has a solidity about it that traditional US oil industry companies had like Kellogg, the Hughes Tool Company, the Hamilton Brothers Petrolite or ARCO. Their logotype and design reflecting solidity like a Paul Rand design. The kind of solidity that John Wayne portrayed on screen as Chance Buckman of the Buckman Company, ‘Oil Well Fire and Blowout Specialists’ in The Hellfighters. The machismo, silver suits and fire of this film when I was a kid inspired me to work in the oil industry. Weedy names and insipid logos like Beyond Petroleum wouldn’t have attracted me to the industry and represent a business where the vitality is now largely dissapated.