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Transfer of knowledge & diversification - oil and gas, and whisky - what are the similarities?

03rd July 2019

What do oil and gas operations have in common with whisky?! Not a lot you might think, but one Atkins process safety team in Glasgow discovered a connection right under their nose.

For over forty years, our Safety team has supported oil and gas operators in process safety, with offshore projects in the North Sea and onshore further afield. Yet due to the volatility of the oil and gas industry, a few years ago we looked at potential ways of providing our skills and services to other industries. As it turned out, being based in the central belt of Scotland was a handy location to start with a highly successful Scottish industry, whisky.

Scotland’s whisky industry is worth more than £5 billion to the UK economy and is the third biggest industry in Scotland, behind energy and financial services. A total of 128 distilleries are licenced to produce Scotch Whisky and the industry supports more than 40,000 jobs, with 10,000 employed directly. In addition, the UK gin industry is a current phenomenon, with more than 250 gins currently in production across Scotland alone.

Oil and gas, and whisky - what are the similarities?

The whisky industry is all about creating a flammable substance, ethanol, and as such distilleries and warehouses face similar issues to onshore oil and gas sites with respect to process safety and reliability. The industry must comply with the same regulations as the oil and gas industry, such as the Control of Major Accident Hazards (COMAH) Regulations and the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (DSEAR).

As a result, our experience of supporting oil and gas operators in demonstrating regulatory compliance (including dealing with regulatory inspectors on behalf of operators) would be entirely transferrable to the whisky/spirit distilling industry in Scotland.

First step into the distilleries

After some market research, identifying target clients, preparing a business plan, and developing some collateral, we had an early lucky break. Edrington was in the process of building a new flagship distillery for Macallan and needed help in demonstrating compliance with the COMAH regulations. We won the job to prepare the COMAH safety report, which needed to cover the new facilities and operation in addition to the existing distillery. Timely submission of the report to the competent authority (HSE and SEPA) was critical to ensure no impact on the commissioning schedule for the new distillery. Throughout our work we applied our extensive experience of delivering compliant COMAH safety reports for oil and gas operators, and this ensured the COMAH compliance process went smoothly with no impact on commissioning schedule.

Since this project, we’ve conducted more work for Edrington and are growing our relationship with them. During the COMAH work, we were given a tour of the new distillery at several points during its construction; an impressive building and well worth a visit!

The second project was to facilitate a HAZOP study for the Glenmorangie distillery expansion project, with excellent feedback received about our Atkins facilitator, and this led to more HAZOP work for Glenmorangie.

This diversifying of our skills continues, with a steady client contact list and portfolio with over 50 companies contacted and inclusion on tender lists with the larger companies. While our work load does naturally focus on our oil and gas clients, we’ve discovered cross-industry capabilities right under our nose.