Into the lion's den (Day 68)
3rd August 2014
We heard a brief news story that an oil rig had caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico. This was Deepwater Horizon, the Macondo well, which eventually became the largest blowout and offshore oil spill in history – little did I know that this incident was going to fill my life for the next 85 days and beyond.
Back in the UK, the story was beginning to build. So the media were clamouring for informed commentators with a good knowledge of oil field and oil well management, who were not gagged by working for BP or indeed for anyone in the industry, and who were willing to put their head above the parapet…and there were not too many around.
The press offices at both IChemE and Imperial College London came in hot pursuit and another new door opened in front of me – this time it led to the TV and radio studios.
Pretty soon I found that my chemical engineer’s perspective on this was in great demand. I gave 60 interviews in 95 days, sometimes at the drop of a hat in odd locations, including by Skype from a hotel room in Japan and memorably from behind the pavilion at Lords.
Hopefully by speaking to a wider audience, people realised that chemical engineering matters and that just as poor engineering practice was part of the problem, good engineering practice was key to the solution.
Despite the risks, that was my lion's den and I came through safely. It has benefited me ever since.
Of course, there are other IChemE members doing similar 'risky' but important things in the media. One of those is Sanjoy Sen, an IChemE member based in Scotland.
Nations have gone to war for oil, so it is no surprise that oil and gas is one of the big debating topics leading up to the Scottish Independence Referendum on 18 September 2014.
For those of you living outside of the UK, the people of Scotland are being asked the question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?” If they vote yes, then they will leave the 'United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland' and end a constitutional relationship that began in 1707 with the Act of Union.
Like most countries, oil and gas carries high economic importance. The Scottish Government has suggested that Scotland could benefit from £34.3bn of North Sea oil and gas and revenues over the next five years - equal to almost £7bn a year.
Sanjoy, and other colleagues from IChemE's Scottish Member Group and Committee, has entered his own lion's den by helping to lead the debate in Scotland from an oil and gas perspective. Like IChemE, Sanjoy is neutral on independence, but it doesn't mean he's guaranteed to avoid getting caught up in the abrasive political debate.
He's achieved great success, which has involved engaging with members and the media, including appearing on radio, several articles in the printed media and as an adviser for a television production.
Many of the issues are set out in an excellent article by Sanjoy which has appeared in tce magazine. Articles like this, and others, have given many people - inside and outside the profession - an opportunity to form a judgement based on fact.
And Sanjoy hasn't finished yet. He's hosting a referendum presentation on Thursday 13 August at 18:00 BST at the University of Aberdeen. It's just one of a series of presentations he's made that you can download from his website.
I congratulate all of our members in Scotland for the way they've helped to lead the independence debate in Scotland. Whatever the result on 18 September, chemical engineers have made an important contribution.