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North Sea oil and gas

The Continental Shelf Act

Britain was now forced to press ahead with alternative sources of energy. In the early 1960s, it was strongly suspected that exploitable hydrocarbons existed in the British North Sea. In April 1964, Britain passed the Continental Shelf Act, which made provision for the exploration and exploitation of the continental shelf. Subsequently, the British sector of the North Sea was divided into 'blocks', for which exploration companies competed through licensing rounds. Gas was discovered off the East Anglican coast in 1965.

In 1970, British Petroleum made its first discovery of commercial oil in the large Forties Field, although oil was not produced until 1976. By 1974, it was apparent that North Sea oil could provide a massive source of energy, and also revenue. Cabinet considered a White Paper on policy towards North Sea oil and the associated tax regime. The first oil was brought ashore by an American company, Hamilton, in 1975. The White Paper was reflected in the terms and conditions of the fifth round of offshore petroleum licensing in 1976. In response to the oil crisis, the government also encouraged a short-lived expansion of coal mining.