Tuesday, 4 May 2010


This morning I was so annoyed, I threw an egg at the wireless.

As you may have gathered, I am a great big fan of the extremely famous British Broadcasting Corporation, but when I hear guff coming out of the radio about the oil industry, I can’t help but throw something.

This is why. Buried between UK election fever, there’s a great big nasty story about the oil industry nightmare going on in the Gulf of Mexico. I often listen to a radio dude who comments each morning on business and finance. Today he was talking to a couple of analysts about oil in the light of the current disaster. He was pressing them on various issues, but especially on the ethical and environmental policies of the oil industry. Fair enough, you might think....events in the Gulf of Mexico are tragic, frightening and very worrying. But what made me so angry was that none of them, interviewer and interviewees, appeared to have any idea how the oil industry actually works.

Since we live in the Oil Age, I would like to know why the general population in the UK, including most of the media, have no real clue about oil. I know this is not the case in Norway. Oil and natural gas have endowed Norway with unprecedented economic freedom, with the sector accounting for almost 20 % of the country’s wealth creation. Much of this wealth is building up Norway’s famous Oil Fund. Most Norwegians have a very clear idea of what the industry is and does, and thus they take a genuine interest in it. In Britain, and even in Scotland where the industry is based, we really need to wise up. For a British journalist to even bother to ask if a major oil company is ethical, both from a moral and an environmental perspective, seems almost archaic and wildly out of touch. And frankly, in light of the manner in which the City and certain bankers have been behaving of late, it’s a bit rich. I'm happy to report that many an oil person has told me if they behaved the way certain bankers have, they wouldn't last a minute.

Do I sound as though I have a bee in my bonnet? Good. Somebody has to...it seems absurd for the public to be so ignorant about something so fundamental to everyday life. I daresay the UK public’s suspicion of oil is a hang-over from the old days, when the industry was perceived as being a Get-Rich-Quick wheeze for greedy, planet-destroying, uncaring capitalists. That may have been a fair assessment decades ago, but not now. Nowadays, can you name an industry in Europe that takes its safety culture and its environmental obligations more seriously than oil? It may not be perfect, and it is right to keep asking questions, but to ignore those issues, to not have those concerns at the top of the agenda, is just bad business.

I wonder how many rigs and platforms are drilling for oil at any one time around the world. Are we into the thousands? We all know extracting oil is one of the most complex and dangerous procedures there is....so of course it is vital that every safety measure is adhered to and every effort is made to avoid complacency. Mistakes cost lives as well as environmental disaster, and it is absolutely not in the interest of an oil company to become complacent.

When something like this happens, it spooks every oil man I know.

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