North Sea Oil Discovered
The North Sea had already been established as a source for natural gas, but once its reserves of oil were discovered, the ill-wind of economic depression could finally begin to abate.
British Petroleum would be raising many a glass in celebration. Their merriment was understandable; not only had their jack-up drilling rig, Sea Gem, found oil five years previous, but the black gold buried 350 feet below the North Sea’s sea bed were enough to send the company’s share price soaring by fourteen per cent. And that was a full fortnight before the find was made public.
At long last there was a redress in the balance of payments and Britain’s reliance on OPEC was somewhat relieved. In 1969, the £670 million pounds had been spent in importing and refining crude oil. Although, at best, North Sea oil would only account for a quarter of the nation’s demand, the 1970 announcement brought hope that the area could become one of the world’s largest oil producers. For Britain, it was a great chance to compete; and there is little better fillip for an economy than the discovery of oil – the lifeblood of the developing world’s economy. And in the context of the early 1970s, there was scant regard for an over reliance on fossil fuel and any inherent damage that it would do to the environment.
Although Britain has to share the North Sea with Germany, Norway, Denmark, and Holland; the largest reserves found lay on British waters. Block 21/10, or the Forties as it was known, lay just over 100 miles from Aberdeen . For the Northeast, the discovery meant jobs. Lots of them. But while the industry was lucrative; it was not easy. The North Sea is among the most inhospitable environments in the world. Without protective clothing, the survival time for anybody who should fall into its waters is estimated at a mere two minutes. With strong winds and low temperatures: safety has always been paramount on the North Sea.
On boxing day, 1965, thirteen people lost their lives when the Sea Gem capsized. Since the area’s natural energy reserves were discovered, the North Sea has seen no shortage of tragedy. On the 6th July 1988 , Piper Alpha, the oldest and largest North Sea oil rig, went ablaze. 167 people died. It was the world’s worst offshore oil disaster, and a sober nadir for the North Sea oil industry.
It would take BP a full five years before the oil would begin to flow. Queen Elizabeth II was briefly employed in the industry, pressing the gold button that started production . This was a new era for Britain’s economy; and though the Labour government would seize upon it, the oil boom was not enough to keep it in power. The new Conservative government under Thatcher would see the growth of the oil industry accelerate. A marked contrast to its present day decline.
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