The United Kingdom may not be one of the world’s largest oil producers, but at 978,000 barrels a day in 2016, it remains the world number 18 for oil production and is second only to Norway in Europe. Oil and gas activities on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) have supported countless thousands of jobs, not just directly but also throughout
the supply chain, and contributed billions of pounds in tax revenues.
Oil production in the UK actually started with shale oil. In 1851, the Bathgate Chemical Works in Scotland arguably became the first site to process mineral oil on an industrial scale. In a testament to Scottish ingenuity, the Scottish shale industry managed to successfully compete against imported products from cheaper sources until 1962.
By the time of World War I, shale production had already peaked, so the UK government was keen to seek out new sources of oil for the Royal Navy and made a modest find at Hardstoft in Derbyshire. A renewed attempt to locate new oil sources was made in the 1930s and gained momentum after the start of World War II. A number of new wells were drilled, most of them located near Eakring in the East Midlands. Attention then turned to the south of England in the 1950s, with oil being discovered in the Triassic Sherwood Sands formation and the Wych Farm oilfield.
Following the discovery of the Groningen gas field in The Netherlands in 1959, a link was finally made between the onshore discoveries and the potential offshore fields under the North Sea. In 1964, the UK Continental Shelf Act came into force and was followed by seismic explorations and an initial well. This and a subsequent well were both found to be dry, but in September 1965, BP’s Sea Gem rig struck gas in the West Sole Field. Unfortunately, part of the rig collapsed as it left the discovery well, causing it to sink with the loss of 13 lives.
Oil production since the 1960s has involved a number of companies. Through its Esso Brand, ExxonMobil, the maker of Mobil ATF LT 71141, pooled its resources with Shell in the early period of exploration in order to share the risks and potential rewards.
Being at the forefront of offshore technology, North Sea operators now face the challenges of deeper waters and increasingly problematic reservoirs on top of the harsh environment.