High Sheriff of Norfolk's day on the rig was a dream come true
Archant © 2011
The high sheriff of Norfolk has been living out some boyhood dreams before the end of his civic term, and getting up close to the county's infrastructure in the process.
"Shell investing in the Norfolk infrastructure for the next 20 years is hugely important for our county."
Charles Barratt says he has greatly enjoyed his year in office – operating as the sovereign’s representative in the county for all matters relating to the judiciary and the maintenance of law and order – but had some personal ambitions to fulfil before it ends on April 12.
He said: “During my shrievalty I have attended a great many civic duties, such as going to the recycling plant at Costessey and the Palm Paper plant at King’s Lynn to get a look at how some of Norfolk’s infrastructure works, and a lot of charitable things.
“But one or two of the things I have got to do recently have been more like boyhood dreams.
“One was to drive a train from Norwich to London Liverpool Street, and I got to do that last month, and the other was to fly out in a helicopter to a gas platform.”
This week the high sheriff flew out to the Shell Leman gas rig, around 40km off the north Norfolk coast, and got a thorough look at how one of the many North Sea gas rigs supplies Bacton Gas Terminal.
After a week of preparation including health and safety courses, learning to abseil and sitting a fire-fighting exam, the high sheriff was then flown out to sea from Norwich International Airport by Bristow Helicopters.
Once he landed on one of multinational energy and petrochemical giant Shell’s rigs, the high sheriff said he could not help but be shocked by the sheer scale of the platform.
He continued: “We were still about four miles from the rig but I thought it was only about 200 yards, the sheer scale of the rigs is huge.
“There was a tug boat alongside that I have seen in Great Yarmouth Harbour before but it looked absolutely tiny.
“There is a crane on there which can lift the equivalent of something like 1,000 elephants, which is absolutely huge, so I knew that the rigs were big but not quite that big.
“Shell only closes down the rig for three weeks a year and spends around £2m a day and £40m on a refit in the summer.
“The machines have big Rolls Royce engines and the equipment is very 21st century, and the skills that the workers have is very impressive, so I absolutely loved it out there.”
The influence of the Bacton Gas Terminal on Norfolk’s economy and infrastructure is difficult to underestimate, covering a 200 acre site and supplying more than 10pc of the UK’s gas.
When Bacton started supplying gas in 1968 it was thought that the offshore gas industry in the North Sea would not last much beyond 25 years, but more than 40 years later it is still going strong.
It is the sheer scale and impact on Norfolk that the Bacton Gas Terminal and the North Sea gas fields have that impressed the high sheriff.
“They bring in gas which they purify to 98pc which then goes to Bacton, then to the National Grid and the next day it is coming out of our cookers,” the high sheriff said.
“That is interesting but from Norfolk’s point of view, Shell are spending a huge amount of money there and are expanding the living quarters from 60 to 160 so they are more than doubling the amount of people on the rig, which shows their long-term commitment to the southern North Sea, as they call it.
“That means the terminal at Bacton is secured, the helicopter service out of Norwich Airport is secured, the health and safety schemes that I had to go on are secured.
“Shell investing in the Norfolk infrastructure for the next 20 years is hugely important for our county, and that is a good thing from the High Sheriff’s point of view.”
Mr Baratt was keen to add that he really appreciated the help he received from Bristow Helicopters in organising his flight out to the Shell platform.
He said: “We landed on this tiny platform sticking out like a finger from the rig and I was really impressed with how I was treated by Bristow and their pilot Andy Beattie.
“The only weather they can’t fly out there in the helicopters in is frozen fog, but if someone is injured out there they don’t care, they are going to get out there whatever.”