An Environmentalist in Energy – Iain Dixon
Why would a passionate environmentalist pursue a career in the oil and gas sector?
One of our most experienced specialists, Iain Dixon, is to retire after several decades working across the energy industry. He explains why he remains passionate about the marine environment and how advising in the sector has led to an exciting and fulfilling career.
Having spent the last 11 years within Xodus Group’s Edinburgh office, specialist environmental consultant Iain Dixon is set to retire from the business later this month.
Through his work in the sector, Iain has successfully translated his lifelong passion for marine science into a rewarding career advising the energy industry on projects spanning the globe. With more than 40-years’ experience in oceanography, marine benthic ecology and environmental impact assessments (EIA), the insight he provides into the way in which the industry continues to shift is invaluable.
Having received his master’s degree in oceanography from Southampton University in 1979, Iain fell into a career in energy when he found himself in a marine research role with the Oil Pollution Research Unit (OPRU) in Pembrokeshire.
“The oil and gas industry has always been very active in understanding the physical environment it works in. When I joined OPRU, the oil and gas industry was funding research into the effects of marine oil spills and the environmental impacts of nascent drilling and production activities in the North Sea. This was the start of offshore environmental survey work and the collection of data in marine environments, and also of offshore EIA. For a long time-the oil and gas industry was the main body investing in marine surveys and research and has provided both industry and academia alike a vast amount of data over the years that has helped us to improve both understanding and protection of the marine environment.”
Through eight years undertaking research and survey work for the energy sector around the UK, Norway, Egypt, West Africa, Iain’s passion for the marine environment continued to grow and he developed a keen interest in benthic ecology which prompted a return to academia to pursue what he himself refers to as an “indulgent PhD” in marine ecology in Scotland. Although hugely enjoyable, reality dictated that Iain return to the commercial survey world at ERT (Scotland) in Heriot-Watt University, initially managing a biological laboratory and latterly the consultancy team and working in various former Soviet Union countries including Russia as well as all round the UK.
It was from this that Iain came to work at Xodus in 2009, where he was instrumental in the establishment of the Edinburgh office. During his time with the company, Iain has managed innumerable EIA studies across the globe, provided advice and developed survey approaches and scopes to operators across the offshore energy sector.
Since the start of his career, Iain has witnessed a number of industry changes. Once almost entirely focused on oil and gas, he has seen a shift in the work he does which reflects the accelerating adoption of renewables by the energy sector at large.
“The one aspect that has grown notably is offshore renewables and, together with this, the need for a considerable offshore infrastructure of cables and interconnectors. All of this has required significant survey work and environmental impact assessment, which has provided great opportunities for Xodus.”
The adoption of new technologies over the years-computers, internet and mobile phones in particular-has accelerated the process of organising, performing and reporting on environmental surveys and EIAs exponentially and added to expectations and timescale pressures.
On the other hand, Iain believes that operators have become more accommodating as the environment now plays such a central role in projects offshore.
“The level of detail involved has grown as our understanding of our impacts on the environment evolves. The desire on all sides to minimise impacts as well as the plethora of complex legislation and guidance that the opportunities for providing advice and developing relationships with operators has never been greater.”
This increasing complexity has also seen the development of highly niche specialisms in EIA. Iain’s first EIA in the late 1990s was for the Angus field redevelopment.
“EIAs were smaller in those days so you were on your own pretty much, preparing them from beginning to end. Now they’re a team exercise, apportioned to people with expertise in a variety of different specialities such as benthic ecology, atmospheric emissions, underwater noise, vessel traffic assessments, geographic information systems and so on, necessary to deliver an appropriate EIA with the required level of detail and focus.”
Iain feels his early experiences gave him a great understanding of all the various aspects of environmental research necessary to inform EIA. Iain wants to inspire budding environmental consultants to pursue their own areas of interest, but to still embrace opportunities to learn more about other specialisms – to break into and deconstruct the black boxes and develop the wider understanding.
Beyond that, he wants to encourage the next generation of environmental consultants to be confident in speaking up and laying down challenge, not only to their colleagues at Xodus but to the industry as a whole. As independent consultants it is our job to guide the energy industry to adopt best practice to ensure a sustainable energy future, no matter what that looks like.
“It’s something we all shy away from to various degrees, but I would say seize opportunities and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you’re not quite sure about any aspect of the work you’re supposed to be doing or why, just ask. It’s the only way you ever learn how to do anything; don’t be timid. The environment team - and Xodus as a whole - is very supportive and has a great system of working across sites.”
Reflecting on his career, Iain has had several project highs but the thing he most values and will miss is relationships.
“I’d never worked in a company that valued people in the same way Xodus does. It’s all about getting teams together. In my 11 years, it’s been the colleagues and clients that have really made things interesting, that made me want to get up in the morning and go to work every day.”
Iain’s career has spanned decades and continents. The expertise he has amassed in this time is unparalleled and the patience and knowledge sharing he has shown with the next generation of consultants is irreplaceable. We at Xodus are proud to have had the honour of working with him for the last 11 years and wish Iain all the best for the future.