In memoriam: Sandy Black (1946-2024)

Sandy Black was a vastly experienced subsea engineer, ever reliable and helpful colleague, and a good friend. He died earlier this year, so we wanted to recognize Sandy's great contribution to the industry.


by Claudette Gaius

Sandy was old school. From 1973, he was involved in oil and gas exploration becoming a subsea specialist and developing his expertise for almost 50 years. As an engineer, he travelled the world starting with Sedco Forex. By the time he left, the company was called Transocean and he was their subsea manager.

‘I first met Sandy in 1996,’ remembers Mark Thompson, ‘when we were both at Transocean. It was immediately apparent that he knew his stuff. After he left to become a consultant and I’d set up Epeus, I turned to him whenever we needed his deep expertise.’

He wrote Seadrill’s managed pressure drilling procedures and, for a time, was BP’s subsea expert. He was involved in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010. Although the ash cloud prevented him from getting to site, he contributed from BP’s Aberdeen office. 

Sandy worked as our subsea and well control equipment specialist on drilling rig projects in Egypt, Azerbaijan, Singapore, out of our UK base, and beyond. 

Digging into the work

As an expert witness, he was often involved in our disputes practice. He warmed to the task like a true Sherlock. In an audio interview from our archives, Sandy said, ‘You’re like a detective. You’re digging into API standards. Is that factory really qualified to do what they’re saying they’re doing? And you start digging until you get down to the facts.’

His knowledge was appreciated by everyone. ‘He was my great friend, colleague and mentor,’ remembers our colleague, Irena Spanovic. ‘Working together on a big arbitration case, he would go into great detail until everything was clear for me. Then I had to put his knowledge into words a layman could understand. He could be very stubborn about all those details being included!’ 

He quickly learned to fit the right level of detail to the context and became adept at the jousting on the witness stand. 

‘You just can’t go out there and say, “No, I disagree,” unless you actually have something to back it up,’ Sandy recalled. ‘Start off with the big picture, then identify the major problems and keep going from there.’

He kept technical documents going back to the 1970s. On one case, he felt sure his view contradicted the statements of the opposing expert and was able to dig up the documents from his personal ‘garage files’ to prove his point. 

‘Knowledge is power,’ Sandy said. ‘The more you’ve got, the more you store, the better you are.’

With a father in the RAF, he had a peripatetic childhood, attending boarding school in Germany and elsewhere. After a stint as a trainee mechanic in a paper mill, he followed his dad into the air force as an aircraft technician. But it was in oil and gas that Sandy found his calling.

Irena recalls him telling her late last year how disappointed he was that he had to turn down some consulting work because of doctor’s appointments. ‘Even in that stage of illness, he wanted to work. For pleasure not for money!’ she said. ‘Subsea engineering was his passion.’

Everyone had ‘Sandy stories’. A favourite of mine was on a Christmas Eve when he was home in St Andrews for the holidays. But he got an urgent call from South Africa about an incident with a BOP and was needed onsite immediately. It wasn’t one of our jobs. Naturally, all commercial flights were booked, so he chartered a Boeing 700 series from Glasgow! 

That evening, he called around all his friends asking them if they fancied going to Cape Town for free. He thought he’d get fired because the chartering fee was an order of magnitude beyond his authorized spending limit and, being Christmas Eve, he couldn’t reach his manager. But he did it and saved the day. The client was immensely grateful. 

Time and talents beyond the job

Sandy was a great family man who loved spending time with his grandkids. In his spare time, he enjoyed working with his hands and would always have a craft project on the go. People from around the neighbourhood would come to his well-stocked garage whenever they needed an obscure tool. He would always oblige, often doing the job himself.

As well as achieving a black belt in Tang Soo Do, which he began training in while out in Borneo, he was also a keen golfer, and a decent folk singer and guitarist. In his late fifties, he even trekked up to Everest Base Camp in memory of his younger son, Peter, who tragically died the previous year. Naturally, he carried a quarter-bottle of the finest single malt and toasted his son’s memory from the Kalla Patthar viewpoint.

‘People would joke that you didn’t want to have you back to the wall in the bar when Sandy got started on subsea engineering,’ recalls Mark fondly. ‘But he had a very genial way about him. He was one of a kind. A great gentleman who loved to work, was always level-headed and willing to help. He’ll be sorely missed by us all.’ 

Alexander Andrew “Sandy” Black is survived by his wife Sheila of 54 years, and son, Mark, and three grandchildren.