Oil & the Urbanisation of the North Sea

Nancy Couling

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractScientific


In 2019, the North Sea petroleumscape celebrates its 50th anniversary since the first major offshore oil discovery at the Ekofisk field in 1969. Despite the current task of decommissioning, it is therefore a rigid, historical format, invested with millions of tons of concrete and steel, working hours, technological solutions, social narratives, and in the meantime encrusted with multiple forms of marine and birdlife. It is a cultural artefact.
The North Sea petroleumscape has urbanised the entire sea and linked into land-side infrastructural systems. This paper traces its formation and explores the spatial properties of the resulting artefact. Urbanisation processes in ocean space have historically been steered by trade and shipping in addition to the fishing industry and more recently by the new technological seascapes of renewables. However, I argue that in the case of the North Sea, the extraction of oil and gas has been the major driver of a process of radical transformation of the sea-space which has, in turn become deeply rooted in society, and particularly in the case of Norway, diverted traditional maritime industries, legends and ways of life into an “ecology” of oil. The Norwegian Directorate for Cultural Heritage has awarded several offshore fields the status of industrial heritage and proceeded with comprehensive documentation of these monuments in lieu of the dismantled physical sites.
As the turn to renewables advances, multi-national oil companies in collaboration with the state are discreetly diverting to “green” strategies, however at the same time, characteristic traits of their oil operations are firmly maintained. The petroleumscape leaves a formidable territorial legacy which is being appropriated, renovated and redirected towards renewables at the same time as processes of optimisation are extracting the last drop from existing fields and finding other substances to inject into their hollowed subsea spaces.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2018
EventPetrocultures 2018: Transitions - University of Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 29 Aug 20181 Sep 2018


ConferencePetrocultures 2018
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


  • Ocean urbanisation
  • ecology of oil
  • technological seascape
  • industrial heritage
  • cultural artefact


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