By Emeka Emembolu

FORTIES was the field that defied the odds and pushed the frontier of what’s possible. And now the North Sea must do the same again to deliver net zero.

Following the discovery of Forties in 1970, many people thought developing oil and gas in 350 feet of water more than 100 miles out in the North Sea was technically out of reach. Even more thought it was commercially improbable.

By 1975 when Forties began producing oil and gas, the mainstream view was that the field would have ceased operations by the early 1990s.

Come 1990 and the prediction of shut down was stretched out to the year 2000.

And so the forecasts continued, and so they continued to be disproved.

What Forties and its determined and ingenious workforce have shown is that with engineering skill, ingenuity and a pioneering spirit nothing is out of reach.

To date, Forties has produced millions of barrels of oil and created skilled jobs and careers for thousands of people.

It has also provided much-needed domestic energy security, not to mention significant financial contributions to support the UK economy.

It is with huge pride that I am able to reflect on Forties and its enduring impact on our industry in my current role leading bp’s North Sea business.

As an engineer, the notion that something can’t be done is a huge motivator.

It’s often at those times when a challenge seems insurmountable that the problem is solved.

This takes a willingness to try new things and adopt new ways of working.

It’s a mindset I find in all corners of bp and I firmly believe its roots can be traced back to the North Sea and, in particular, to my former colleagues who discovered and developed Forties.

When bp sold its stake in Forties in 2003, some likened it to us selling the family silver. But it was a good strategic move and good news for the North Sea as a whole.

Apache entered the basin as a leading independent with a strong track record and keen to invest in and extend the life of mature fields.

The sale was part of bp’s strategy to reshape our UK portfolio and focus on core growth areas in the central North Sea and west of Shetland, including the giant Clair field, which will provide energy for the UK for decades to come.

Of course, to develop these resources today we must rise to and overcome a more urgent challenge – finding ways to produce energy that is significantly less harmful to our environment and the climate.

The Forties story still inspires me today as bp plots a completely new course, pivoting from an international oil company to an integrated energy company to achieve our ambition of being a net zero company by 2050 or sooner.

For bp, we aim to increase our investment in renewable energy 10-fold by 2030, while reducing our global hydrocarbon production by 40% in the same decade.

We will do this by focusing on core oil and gas regions like the North Sea, to deliver the resources still needed in the energy mix, but we will not explore for more oil and gas in new countries.

It means that the resources we do produce have to be lower carbon and more competitive, channelling the resolve of our Forties forebearers to find new solutions that make our operations more efficient with fewer emissions.

I’m pleased to say we’re already in action.

Just one example is using drones to detect and measure methane around our offshore operations to help us reduce its impact. Another is exploring the potential to power our platforms with clean energy from shore.

But solutions to achieve net zero will come from all parties. bp is playing its part, so too are our peers and colleagues in industry and government.

It’s a challenge that will require us all to channel that 1970s pioneering spirit and then some, but one I know we are all up for.

Emeka Emembolu is senior vice president for bp’s North Sea business.