Saturday, 30 December 2006

North Sea Oil - Forgotten Revolution

A very timeous development for my career in construction was the emergence, on my doorstep, in the seventies of North Sea oil. It has had a significant impact on my professional career and has allowed me to travel the world selling the expertise I gained from that time.

I'm again grateful to Michael Beurk's autobiography (see earlier blog) in expressing specific thoughts that are worthy of review. He is relating his time in Scotland in the seventies when the oil had just been discovered. [I again quote verbatim and hope no copyright has been infringed]:

but it is curious how that couple of years in the late seventies was the only time the great North Sea oil adventure really impinged on the public consciousness. It was the biggest industrial enterprise since the explosion of the railways, more than a century before. Whole towns were built on stilts in some of the most inhospitable waters in the world. Some of the platforms were higher than the Post Office tower. They were serviced by swarms of helicopters and fleets of supply vessels. They had generators each of which could light a whole city. It all cost maybe £100 billion and earned the country double that amount. It cost scores of lives, too, on platforms that buckled and burned, and hundreds of feet below the surface where dozens of heroic divers died lonely deaths.

Yet there is hardly any popular books about North Sea oil. Few of the politicians rescued by its revenues even mention it in their memoirs. There are no toy rigs, no social studies, no celebration of the roustabout as the infantryman of progress, as his predecessor, the navvy, was glorified in the 1840s.

The oilfields were miracles of human ingenuity. The concentration of financial and technical resources were unmatched outside a world war. It arguably saved the country from economic collapse. More arguably, it gave Margaret Thatcher the elbow room for her particular revolution. It changed our prospects, if not our lives, and most of the time we simply ignore it, out of sight and over the horizon.

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