Tuesday, 16 March 2010


This morning, if I want to buy a barrel of oil, I’m going to have to pay 79.7 US dollars. But this price is more than just a simple figure. The ever-changing oil price is the reflection of a long and complex story. Today Brits are furious at the cost of petrol at the pumps and fuel for heating their homes. The cost to the consumer never seems to be reflected in the oil price itself, and that makes people mad. But the route to finding and extracting oil is so much more complex than most people realise, and the costs are hair-raising. The story in Norway was one from which even a hardened gambler might shy away. And, it is certainly worth knowing, because it nearly didn’t happen at all.

Way back in 1752 a bloke who rejoiced in the name of Erich Pontoppidan mentioned that the North Sea might contain ‘bituminous and oleaginous juices’. Pontoppidan was a theologian and scientist who had spent many a happy hour inspecting the natural history of Norway. But when he wrote that ‘it was probable that...here and there in the Sea, ..... runne Oil-Brookes or Streams of Petroleo’, people couldn’t be sure one way or the other.

Much later, in 1958, in preparation for the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea, the Geological Survey of Norway was asked to look into the possibility of oil in the North Sea. Its conclusion was clear: ‘The chances of finding coal, oil or sulphur on the continental shelf off the Norwegian coast can be discounted’.

So that was that then. Pontoppidan knew heehaw.

Until four years later. Quite what form of mule-like stubbornness it took to go against this 1958 statement has yet to be determined. But way out in Bartlesville, Oklahoma some geological pedants thought differently. Gas had been discovered onshore in the Netherlands in 1959, and the guys in Oklahoma looked at a big map and thought, ‘Well I’ll be darned if there ain’t some kind of thang goin’ on between those Dutch reservoirs and that Big Ol’ North Sea.’

And so the search was on.

There are two main things needed when searching for oil. Number One, The Patience of Job. Number Two, Extraordinarily Large Sums of Wonga. Without patience and money, nothing will happen. Have faith, my friend, your geologist MIGHT be right...but only after you’ve spent hundreds of millions of dollars and twiddled your thumbs red raw.

So in 1962 a request for an exclusive licence to explore for petroleum was lodged with the Norwegian Government. 1965 saw the first offshore licensing round, and the North Sea boundary lines with Britain and Denmark were agreed. Then everyone just sat around while the guys offshore got on with it.

Nothing happened. Then nothing happened. Then nothing happened for a long time. By 1969 people were getting seriously disgruntled, not to mention skint. This little game wasn’t funny any more. Someone was having a laugh. This was a wild goose chase, a needle in a haystack, a monstrous waste of time, an immoral waste of money. A total of 29 wells were drilled and proved to be dry, dry, dry. Optimism drained away like water into sand.

By the end of 1969, Phillips Petroleum Company were the only people who had not lost hope, but even they were being worn down. A decision was made to drill one last time, one more well, one final chance.

It was Christmas Eve 1969 when –BINGO- oil was struck. Known forever more as Norway's Christmas Present, a giant oil field was discovered, Ekofisk, and history was made. Only JUST inside the boundary line with Denmark, Norway’s fortunes changed overnight and forever. Ekofisk proved to be the biggest oil field in Europe, and is still producing ‘oleaginous juices’ to this day.

And where does all Ekofisk’s Black Gold go? Every last drop is exported to a refinery in Teeside, UK.


  1. have just Tweeted this great blog - thought the world ought to be informed too!!

  2. Jane, Still loving the blog, have you seen the number of your followers and flags!!!!!!! So impressive, must admit there was a flag I did not know so feeling a bit thick.
    However also relieved as I did not realise there were other families out there who had a rock collector and duster in,......so, feeling more normal, thank you!! Love from Vicki

  3. I'm starting to think you should come and teach my history classes. Will have a chat with Julius about it.

  4. Tusen takk to you guys and all who are reading this stuff...I am just grateful people are interested...