7th March 1967. ‘The Future of Britain in his Hands.'(1)
Seismic prospecting for natural gas and oil had been going on since 1962 and full-scale exploration began in 1964, following the Continental Shelf Act and the subsequent award of licences.
The discoveries offshore in the North Sea, was to turn Britain into a major oil and gas producing nation, and it was Today in 1967, that natural gas (a cleaner alternative to town gas), was first pumped ashore at Easington, near Durham.
The previous year BP announced that it has struck the best gas-producing areas yet in the North Sea, forty miles east of the Humber, geologically from the same seam, which outcrops in Dorset, in the south.
The first industrial customers to use North Sea gas from the West Sole Field were in Sheffield, whilst Burton on Trent, Staffordshire, was the first to be converted to domestic gas distribution in 1966.
By June 1975 the first oil flowed ashore from the Argyll Field, 200 miles of Edinburgh, being landed by a Liberian tanker to BP’s Isle of Grain Refinery.
This Field produced the first oil three months ahead of the BP Forties Field, which ran 127 miles to Grangemouth, near Edinburgh. Later output later followed from the Piper, Brent and Ninian fields.
Many companies, mainly American were operating in North Sea, but Labour’s Energy Secretary, Tony Benn wanted more control to protect British interests. So in 1976 BNOC (2) was set up as trader to purchase from the other companies which now became contractors, rather than concessionaires.
In full production, the North Sea, was set to supply about quarter of our needs and Prime Minister Wilson said he expected to be self-sufficient in oil by 1980, when there dozens of platforms operating.
By 1978 Britain became the 16th biggest oil-producing nation, when output topped a million barrels for the first time representing 60% of the country’s demand for oil. By 1979 our production exceeded imports. Aberdeen in Scotland, became the oil capital of Britain.
It is not surprising that extracting oil and gas in the middle of the hostile North Sea, had its accidents. On Boxing Day, 1965 BP’s Sea Gem, Gas Rig, erected off Yarmouth, collapsed and 100 died, on a rig, used as a hotel for workers.(3)
The biggest disaster was the Piper Alpha explosion in 1988, which killed over 160. A chaplain was later to say it was an unlucky rig with low morale, and even the lights didn’t work properly.
Production, as often happens, was at the expense of safety considerations.
In 2012 Britain got 67% of her oil and 53% of gas from the North Sea, but in 2015 the industry suffered its worst lost in a decade as extraction became more costly.
(1) Tony Benn, Labour’s Energy Secretary held up a jar of the first oil to come ashore in Britain, and said, ‘I hold the future of Britain in my hands.’
(2) British North Sea Oil Company.
(3a) The oil-rig method of construction was first used back in 1943 when Guy Monsall designed anti-aircraft platforms at Red Sands off Whitstable in the Thames estuary, which formed part of a group of three forts.
(3b) In March 2009 sixteen men were lost when a helicopter went down in the North Sea.
In 1986, four million applied for the privatized British Gas shares, urged on by the slogan, ‘If you see Sid tell him.’
In May 2008, oil was to reach $135 a barrel and pump price went well over £1 a litre. Russia was supplying Europe with much oil having taken over from Saudi Arabia as the largest producer. In early 2009 the price was down to $40 a barrel. It rose again only to fall back to $50 in 2015.
Ref: bbc.co.uk/scotland 16.1.2002.
Ref: guardian.com.’ North Sea Oil and Gas suffers worst loss in decade.’ 24.2.2015. Severin Carrell.
Ref: bbc.co.uk/news. Pic. Ref.