Sunday Herald (Scotland): Goldeneye for the big opportunity: “Kieron McFadyen left school at 15 with no qualifications. Now he’s overseeing a multi-billion pound project full of whizz-bang Bond-like technology.”: “Goldeneye was a very important project and an excellent example of sustainable development in action,” says McFadyen, who is responsible for Shell’s technical developments across eight European countries.”: “He has established a reputation as a problem-solver in his 20-year career with Shell, which has included innovations in Oman where he introduced horizontal drilling for the first time, and thinking on his feet as regional business adviser for Shell in Nigeria. Shell has had a troubled existence in Nigeria, becoming embroiled in politically sensitive land disputes and beset by incidences of sabotage and violence and clashes with human rights and environmental activists.” (ShellNews.net) 21 Nov 04
21 November 2004
Kieron McFadyen left school at 15 with no qualifications. Now he’s overseeing a multi-billion pound project full of whizz-bang Bond-like technology. By Valerie Darroch
FLYING over the newly-commissioned Goldeneye gas platform 100km off the Aberdeenshire coast, you glimpse four tiny figures on the deck. They are the first signs of life you come across in a 35-minute helicopter trip over the turbulent waters of the North Sea.
A supply vessel chugs past in the distance, but not a single other structure is visible on the rainswept horizon, driving home the isolation of working offshore and the ingenuity required to counter the fearsome technical challenges of operating in such an inhospitable climate.
Once a month, Kieron McFadyen, European technical director for Shell Exploration and Production, pulls the tight rubber neck of a yellow survival suit over his head and flies offshore to spend a night on a rig.
As one of Shell’s most senior executives in Europe, McFadyen does not have to do this, but it is his way of staying in touch with the people who help ensure the success of complex technical projects such as Goldeneye. “It’s the best way to find out what’s really happening.” says McFadyen.
He is unlikely to spend a night on Goldeneye, which is normally unmanned, bar a few visits from technical crew. It is operated remotely by staff at the St Fergus gas plant onshore, evidence that technology is bringing about momentous change in the North Sea.
McFadyen explains that Goldeneye, which is 49% owned and operated by Shell, was first discovered in 1996 but regarded as economically marginal, partly due to its remote location. Eight years later, a £300 million project to bring it on-stream has been completed on time and to budget, and the field will peak at a daily production rate of 300 million cubic feet of gas, meeting 3% of the UK’s gas requirements.
McFadyen gives a glimpse of the painstaking detail involved in the project. When a stretch of beach adjacent to St Fergus facility had to be dug up to lay a pipeline, Shell replanted the marron grass in the reconstructed sand dunes blade by blade.
“Goldeneye was a very important project and an excellent example of sustainable development in action,” says McFadyen, who is responsible for Shell’s technical developments across eight European countries.
McFadyen reels off a number of breakthroughs made in the Goldeneye project, including the 105 kilometre pipeline which is the longest full well stream transfer pipeline in the UK Continental Shelf. “We made a cost breakthrough by transporting raw fluids [via the pipeline] straight to the beach [St Fergus plant],” McFadyen says.
The team also made a breakthrough in deepwater drilling, operating a jack-up rig at 120 metres, the greatest depth achieved in the UK.
“Goldeneye was a tough challenge, but probably not the toughest of my career because we have so much technical expertise and knowhow concentrated in Aberdeen,” McFadyen says.
He has established a reputation as a problem-solver in his 20-year career with Shell, which has included innovations in Oman where he introduced horizontal drilling for the first time, and thinking on his feet as regional business adviser for Shell in Nigeria.
Shell has had a troubled existence in Nigeria, becoming embroiled in politically sensitive land disputes and beset by incidences of sabotage and violence and clashes with human rights and environmental activists.
It might seem odd that Shell selected McFadyen, a man with a strong technical background, for such a sensitive role, but he says he thrived under tense circumstances.
“In Nigeria I was dealing with helicopter hijacks, community unrest and sabotage. Most businesses rehearse for a crisis situation every two years. I was manning a crisis centre every two weeks,” says McFadyen.
“I like a crisis in a sense because it always throws up the opportunity to do something different.”
The night before the Nigerian general election four years ago, McFadyen and his regional director were driving from Lagos to the airport when jostling crowds brought traffic to a standstill.
“The only way to get through was to drive down the wrong side of a dual carriageway. It wouldn’t happen on the M6,” says McFadyen.
Personal anecdotes such as his tales of working as a student in an ice-cream van in Glasgow’s Drumchapel, betray an unorthodox streak not apparent from McFadyen’s corporate CV.
“I’m kind of an oddball in Shell. I left school at 15 with no qualifications. I vividly remember walking to the dole office and I didn’t have the neck to even ask for the bus fare,” he recalls.
He started work as an apprentice engineer in the maintenance shop at Glasgow University where his boss encouraged him to study. Several years later he shed his overalls and enrolled at Glasgow University’s engineering faculty where he gained a first class degree.
“I was so keen, I showed up at 7am the first day and I treated it like a job,” he says.
On graduation, he came close to joining Unilever, the consumer goods giant whose ice-cream brands he once sold from a van, but opted for Shell because he was keen to work overseas.
Despite having worked in the dusty deserts of Oman and remote jungles of Borneo, he cites a spell in London as the most difficult of his career.
He was responsible for selling gas to utilities such as ScottishPower and British Gas in the early 1990s, just as the UK energy market was liberalising. However McFadyen also regards this challenging commercial experience as “the biggest break of my career” because it forced him to focus sharply on customers’ needs.
The common strand in his career is a focus on gas. “I like gas because it has a customer face. If we were to fail offshore, you’d know about it because your central heating would go off,” he says.
McFadyen’s team are playing a key role in the UK’s “dash for gas”, and with Goldeneye complete, they will turn their attention to other major projects including Corrib, the first gas development off the west coast of Ireland, due to come on stream in 2007.
There are also plans to build a new facility for a major cross- border gas pipeline at the Shell and Esso-operated natural gas terminal in Norfolk which will allow the UK to import additional gas from Europe. The largest project on his books is development of the planned £5.5 billion Ormen Lange gas field in the Norwegian Sea, 130 kilometres west of Kristiansund.
Underpinning all of these projects is Shell’s three-pronged strategy to bring gas to market, to maximise its core exploration and production areas, and to grow the business.
Europe is a major contributor to Shell’s global operations – with the European exploration and production business accounting for one-third of the company’s global pie.
Future challenges will entail a push into the relatively under-explored Atlantic Margin, in UK and Norwegian-owned territory, as well as investing in the central and southern North Sea.
“The North Sea has taught me a lot about tension, about long and short-term considerations, building new things and maintaining old ones,” McFadyen says.
The opposing tidal forces of the sea offer metaphors for dealing with people too, he believes.
“You have to maintain a strategic overview, but know when it’s right to drill down. And you have to build teams, yet encourage competitive individuals,” he says.
Looking to the future, McFadyen offers a suitably liquid metaphor for the North Sea: “It is a half-full glass, not a half-empty one.”