In former times, Britain's exploration of the high seas enabled it to build an empire.?
In former times, Britain's exploration of the high seas enabled it to build an empire. Today, exploration beneath the sea is likely to make it rich again. For the race is on to bring ashore the vast quantities of oil which have been discovered on the seabed around its shores.
This year, the first trickle of oil is being brought out of the sea to the refineries. By 1980, the trickle will be a flood and the North Sea will be providing Britain with as much oil as it now uses in a year, putting it on a level with Kuwait among oil-producing nations.
If forecasts prove accurate, the seabed will provide enough oil for Britain's needs for the next 50 years and will have a profound effect on Britain's place in the world.
The nation's current annual fuel bill runs at some 3,000 million sterling, paid mainly to the Gulf Sates. This enormous sum contributes largely to Britain's economic difficulties. But, by 1975, the cost will start to reduce as a tremendous effort to pipe the oil ashore gets into its stride.
The cost of it all is measured in astronomical figures - but so are the benefits.
It is estimated that, by 1982, oil developers will have sunk 15,000 million sterling into the exploration of undersea fields.
But, by 1980, something approaching 100 million tons of oil could be coming onto the mainland and Britain should reach a state of oil self-sufficiency four years later. It could even be a net exporter of crude oil. This is a position undreamed of 15 years ago. It was only in 1964 that the first tentative drillings were made. Success was almost immediate, both in finding oil and natural gas - which now meets the national demand.
But, if finding the oil was relatively easy, the problem of bringing it ashore and turning it into fuel for industry and transport was a large and complicated one. But, this month, the first of the production platforms was floated 118 miles out to sea off the coast of Scotland and sunk into position over a well-head. Hundreds of miles of pipeline are being laid on the seabed to connect the platform with on-shore refineries and the first oil from the Forties Field - the largest North Sea oilfield, with estimated reserves of 2,000 million barrels - will begin to flow next year.
A great many problems still remain. The capacity for handling the oil has yet to match the discoveries. Environmental and labour consideration in this vast new industry still have to be ironed out. But the race to bring the oil ashore is on. The prize is a new era of prosperity for a nation which, until now, has never looked like winning its economic battle.
Today, Britain can look to the North Sea and say that self-sufficiency in oil is no longer a mere possibility - but is within its grasp.