Article published in Upstream: Head to Head with Duncan Peace by Russell McCulley, 31st Aug 2023
DUNCAN Peace has been in the offshore oil and gas business long enough to have seen it go through many phases. But the current one, with decarbonisation high on the agenda and public pressure for change mounting, may be unlike any other.
Peace, founder and managing director of UK-based Crondall Energy, is nevertheless feeling “very positive” about this era of transition.
“We think of offshore as being oil and gas, but actually offshore is increasingly just an area where we’re engaged in developing and harvesting energy,” he says.
“It’s all about the energy industry within an ocean environment. And it’s a very exciting time to be part of that industry because we’re going through this huge transition.”
Crondall Energy itself is going through a transition, adding staff and expanding its engineering and consulting services.
Launched in 2001 and named after the small village in Hampshire, southwest of London, where Peace was living at the time, the offshore engineering and consulting company made its name in deep-water floating production and subsea design, with a strong focus on the North Sea.
The company now has a staff of just over 50 people in seven offices: five in the UK, including a Glasgow location that opened just this year, and one each in Singapore and Houston.
Crondall’s scope has similarly expanded. Floating production and subsea projects remain central, but the company has branched out into renewable energy and carbon abatement projects such as carbon capture and storage.
Peace says: “Our ambition is to rebalance the business so that we’re less reliant on what we would refer to as unabated hydrocarbon production, the sort of conventional hydrocarbons market.
“We are moving into renewables. The amount of work we’re doing in renewables at the moment is relatively small, but it’s an area we’re putting a lot of effort and a lot of investment into, both in terms of developing our own skills and in recruitment.”
A third element in that balance is what he calls “the segment that sits in between renewables and oil and gas” that sometimes gets overlooked in the polarised energy debate.
These are the companies working to “actively abate” their emissions, he says. “Now that may mean they’re still exploring and producing hydrocarbons, but they’re looking at ways in which they can reduce their scope one, two, and in some cases, scope three emissions. And that’s become quite a large part of our business now.”
Peace aims for Crondall’s portfolio to comprise “roughly one third unabated hydrocarbons, one third in the abated and transitional sector, and then one third renewables”. He says: “That way we feel we’ll be a much more resilient organisation, and we’ll have the opportunity to support our clients in a more helpful way.”
Resilience is a competitive advantage but there is also much to be said for good timing, a recurring theme in Peace’s career. The son of a Norfolk boatbuilder, he spent university summer breaks working on North Sea gas platforms as a painter.
As a young naval architect, he spent a year working with renowned yacht designer Ed Dubois before joining Vickers Offshore, in 1980, to work on the Hutton field’s tension-leg platform, an industry first.
It was a period of rapid innovation for floating production, and Peace, armed with a master’s degree in offshore engineering from University College London, soon joined Brown and Root. There, he spent time at affiliated companies including Barmac — a joint venture of Brown and Root’s HiFab yard and McDermott — and Rockwater, a precursor to Subsea 7, where he worked on his first FPSO, installing the Bluewater Uisge Gorm at the Amerada Hess-operated Fife field. Peace was asked to join what was then Statoil’s shipping and marine technology group, which became Navion.
He spent “nearly three really enjoyable years” in Stavanger as Navion’s vice president of business development, focusing on the FPSO segment, before the company’s assets were divested.
Peace returned to the UK at the end of 2000 and set about launching his own business.
“The market for FPSOs was really taking off at that time and it seemed to me that there were very few independent organisations who really understood the technology.
“So, there was an opportunity to provide clients with high quality technical and commercial advice on developments involving this technology,” he says.
Peace says he has lost count of the number of floater projects Crondall has worked on since but there are several standouts, including Santos’ Mutineer Exeter FPSO off Western Australia, Marathon Oil’s Alvheim FPSO in Norway, and Tullow Oil’s Jubilee and TEN projects offshore Ghana. Crondall is currently working on several FPSO redeployment projects and Peace himself is deeply involved in designing and building a demonstrator of the company’s power and control buoy technology, which will begin ocean testing offshore Falmouth next summer.
Peace, 69, is bullish about UK technology development and the North Sea’s energy future, despite headwinds for new fossil fuel developments.
“I think the North Sea still has a lot of potential,” he says. “But we need to have clarity from the authorities as to what sort of future they want. Because from a technical point of view, I think there’s a very strong potential future for the North Sea, both in terms of production, but also in terms of emissions abatement.”
Peace and his wife of 20 years, Claudia, now live in another small village in southern England. He enjoys skiing with family and friends in winter and competitive sailing in summer, both in dinghies and a 25-foot keelboat that he designed and built in 1981.
He sold it long ago but when it came on the market a few years ago — “looking like a real wreck, it was so sad” — Peace bought it back and had it completely renovated. “And now we’re back to racing again,” he says. “Just one of my passions."