Alastair Malkin recalls mapping at PE in the early 1990s

Updated: Feb 23, 2021

Worked for Petroleum Economist between 1993 and 1996
Alastair Malkin

I am often reminded of my few years at Petroleum Economist back in the 1990s. At the time there were so many firsts for me, not least it was my first real job. I still remember during the interview that I was asked and knew the capital of Kazakhstan (Ironic given the numerous name changes in subsequent years). I often feel this contributed to my interview success. Nigel Bance, the esteemed publisher, who interviewed me and drove PE forward, was very keen on working more closely with Russia, at a very dynamic time in its recent history.

Compared to today's digital mapping techniques, hand drawn maps were a different skill often long winded and painstaking to perfect
Hand-created maps with David Burles at the PE helm

When I arrived at PE my role was “researcher”, as I was not a trained cartographer, and the maps were being drawn by hand by the ever patient and very skilled cartographer David Burles. But Mr Bance, ever the progressive, saw the future in “big machines” as he called our computers. Big machines in those days used megabytes rather than gigabytes and screens were as deep as they were wide. But they did provide the opportunity to bring map drawing away from pen and ink to mouse and keyboard, helped fundamentally by the introduction of such tools as Illustrator, Photoshop, CoralDraw and QuarkExpress.

The first step was to take the hard work done by Mr Burles and scan the original maps, save them as TIF/EPS files and then use them as the base to create the map in Illustrator, by performing the rather repetitive task of clicking round the coastlines and to extend the design to include relief. A fairly time-consuming task but quicker than the hand drawn process.

The work started by Alastair has been added to over the 25 years since he left PE. Today, these fields pipelines and facilites have been digitised again into our GIS mapping platform which feeds our fourth generation interactive mapping
Digitised mapping led to a series of maps like the Gas in the CIS and Europe.

The next step was to use the data I collected during the research phase to create a PE owned catalogue of data, the oil and gas fields, pipelines and storage terminals in a digital format. This data also led to the creation of year books and other authoritative publications detailing the industry.

In many ways the whole experience was enormously satisfying and memorable. These were moments I will never forget, even if some were tinged with apprehension at the time, for example the visit to the printers Victoria Litho. The whole process, from biking the proofs across London, to taking the Central Line west to Acton and finding my way to the warehouse.

Detailed inspection of the map as it comes off the press is vital and requires great skill.
Proof checking on the presses continues to this day.

Those were the days before mobile phones. Last minute changes were down to the skill of the printer—and their willingness to help. Almost nothing was impossible for them. Some had been doing it for a lifetime. Today the sight of pristine maps on a palette ready to be cut and folded still brings Twitter followers with an interest in maps alive with excitement. There was one other motivation for me, a spot bonus for every completed map, a singular method to arouse enthusiasm and excitement in any twenty something.

And now I work for Adobe, and at home, with a map of the world as my wallpaper in front of me. Mapping today remains an integral part of everybody's life and a passion for many. The process has evolved and to be a cartographer today you must almost be a “full stack developer”, but it is the overwhelming enthusiasm a beautiful map can evoke as true today as it was twenty, thirty, a hundred or more years ago. I am so pleased to see PE still produces maps, better maps.

ALASTAIR MALKIN (Petroleum Economist, 1993-1996)