CHRISTMAS is nearly here but as Scots prepare for a cosy family day with the turkey roasting, fairy lights flashing and radiators keeping them warm – they are being asked to spare a thought for the 9000 offshore gas and oil workers helping to make it all happen.

It’s their job to help supply the UK with the 400 million cubic metres of gas the UK uses on average each winter day to cook our food, heat our homes, run our industries and fuel the power stations that make our electricity. It means they will be spending Christmas and often New Year too, on gas and oil installations that can be more than 200 miles from the mainland.

They will also be helping protect UK homes from the energy shortages hitting much of Europe this week caused by Russia cutting deliveries to Germany through the Yamal-Europe pipeline.

About 11 million homes have gas ovens, so anyone cooking a turkey will be particularly dependent on those offshore workers. An even greater number of UK homes – around 24 million or 85% – rely on gas for heating.

Those using electricity for heat and cooking also depend on gas – it’s used to generate more than 40% of all the UK’s power, on average. Last week this temporarily rose to more than 60%. It means all of our cookers, our comfort and our Christmas lunches are all directly connected to those North Sea workers.

Among those workers is Mike Carling, 55, Offshore Installation Manager (OIM) for the Cygnus Alpha gas production platform, in the southern North Sea. It lies about 90 miles equidistant from the coasts of Norfolk and Lincolnshire, and from the cities of Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Newcastle upon Tyne.

His platform – operated by Neptune Energy – supplies 6% of the UK’s gas via a pipeline that comes ashore at Bacton in Norfolk. The structure of the UK gas grid network means that the gas fed into Bacton will mainly be used by customers in London and South East England.

It means about 1.5 million homes will be depending on Carling and his crew for the gas to heat their homes and cook their Christmas dinners.

Neptune, based in London and Aberdeen, also operates the Gjøa platform which is in Norwegian waters but which feeds its gas to the St Fergus terminal near Peterhead, from where it supplies Scotland and northern England.

It also means Carling, whose home is in Redcar, near Middlesbrough, will be spending Christmas away from wife Vicki, his two young children, Luke and Lucy; three grown-up boys, Matthew, Chris and Joe; and one grandson, Ollie.

Carling said: “For many workers, spending Christmas and/or New Year’s Day offshore is a regular occurrence, but it’s likely there will always be one or two who are spending the festive period away from family and loved ones for the first time. This is where the terrific camaraderie on Cygnus comes into its own, and the crew take special care to look after everyone and keep up the spirits of anyone who’s new to the experience.

“Some will celebrate Christmas with the family after they get back onshore, so its more of a case of postponing the festivities rather than missing out.

“Ultimately, we know we’re doing an important job, making sure everyone has the energy the need to celebrate Christmas, cook their dinners and enjoy time with their friends and family. It is something of which the offshore workforce can be rightly proud.”

The National: TAQA's Tern oil rig in the North Sea.

CHRISTMAS Day will also see crews working on installations in the Irish Sea, off Morecambe, at the north end of Liverpool Bay, 40 miles east of the Isle of Man, 16 miles west of Blackpool and 40 miles north-west of Liverpool. The field supplies more than a billion cubic metres of gas a year, enough for a million homes, feeding into the grid mainly serving north Wales, Merseyside and Lancashire.

An OGUK survey of offshore workers, published this year, found that about 27,000 people are directly involved in oil and gas production, meaning they work largely offshore, on rotas. They come from all over the UK but with particularly strong concentrations in some areas (See linked map and charts).

In England, Norwich, Hull, Middlesbrough, and Newcastle upon Tyne are each home to at least 3000 offshore workers with more in Merseyside, Manchester, Leeds and Sheffield. Several hundred more live in or around London. In Scotland the key concentrations are around Inverness, Aberdeen. Dundee, Glasgow and Edinburgh.

How much will the UK be relying on gas supplies this Christmas?

- In 2020 the UK consumed 74 billion cubic metres of gas. This equates to about 1100 cubic metres of gas for each of the UK’s 65m citizens.

- Over the last year gas-fired power stations provided 41% of the UK’s electricity, with much more on occasion to cover when the wind drops.

- There are more than 250 manned offshore oil and gas installations around the UK, crewed by 9-10,000 people at any one time.

Where does it come from?

- The UK continental shelf – which includes the North Sea – provides half of UK needs.

- In 2020 27 billion cubic metres of gas were imported from Norway by pipeline.

- Another 18 billion cubic metres were imported as liquefied natural gas, half from Qatar and the rest from America and other countries. Some of this gas flows out again.

- UK Gas prices have soared by 520% this year, including an 8% rise on Monday this week – mostly linked to Russia’s decision to cut deliveries to Germany through the Yamal-Europe pipeline.

The National: Oil rig appears in Falmouth Bay

On Cygnus, shifts still start at 6am.

Capable of supplying 6% of the UK’s domestic gas demand, the Cygnus facility plays a crucial role all year-round, so the 24/7 operation does not stop, even for Christmas Day. The crew will typically focus on safety-critical work or dealing with any new, emerging issues. Everyone begins their day as though it was any other, participating in the shift meetings at 6am before carrying out standard checks and inspection work.

Most of the crew will have the opportunity for some downtime later in the afternoon, making time for the festive lunch for which the catering crew do a phenomenal job. The workers will be treated to a spread of turkey, goose, beef and all the trimmings. After lunch, everyone participates in the customary secret Santa.

Everyone has access to phones – including in their cabins – so they will phone their children, family, friends and partners and wish them a merry Christmas.

Deirdre Michie, OGUK’s chief executive, said: “As the rest of us enjoy Christmas we ask everyone to spare a thought for the 9-10,000 people working on oil and gas installations far out in the North Sea who will spend Christmas away from their families to make sure that energy – in the form of gas and oil – keeps flowing.”