The Sea of Lost Opportunity

North Sea Oil and Gas, British Industry and the Offshore Supplies Office


  • Norman J. Smith, Ex-Director General Director UK Department of Energy's Offshore Supplies Office

This book is a contribution to the history of a vital stage of UK technical and economic development, perhaps the most important since the Second World War. It shows, from an industrial viewpoint, how the British handled the exploitation of their most significant natural resource gain of the 20th century. Notwithstanding the nearly 30 years of government support through the Offshore Supplies Office, the UK has not reaped the full benefit of the North Sea discoveries; this book attempts to explain why. It will assist governments and industries faced with future instances of unforeseen, specialist and large-scale new demand to manage their reactions more effectively. It also throws light on how governments can pursue strategic industrial objectives while leaving market mechanisms to function with minimal interference, something some administrations - perhaps even the British - may wish to do now or in the future.
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Public sector policy makers, business strategists, academics in fields of economics/industrial history, energy economics and business.


Book information

  • Published: May 2011
  • Imprint: ELSEVIER
  • ISBN: 978-0-444-53645-7


"Meticulously researched, the author draws on extensive reference list, of both published and unpublished sources, and includes testimonies from key participants within the industry in order to drill down to the level of individual company decisions…this book represents an important contribution in the quest to uncover the complex and opaque relationships that existed during the time period under consideration."--Scottish Business and Industrial History, page 106-107
"This is an impressive work…extremely well researched book, using not only published and archived sources from government, oil industry, and the business community, but also his own working knowledge…This book should be essential reading for anyone concerned with the UK’s energy problems or questions of industrial policy. It provides much insight into the complex and every present interplay of business interests and political policy making."--Oriel College Record, 2012, page 76
"absolutely gripping - a real tour de force" Sir Derek Morris, Provost of Oriel College, Oxford and former Chairman of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission
"Turning to the Sea of Lost Opportunity, this book is highly relevant to the Britain, of today‚Ķdeeply stressed and seemingly unable to pull itself out of what has become an horrendous economic mire ...... a must-read for anyone who is hungry to learn about the industry that grew to become our greatest success story in a very long time."
--The Press and Journal (Aberdeen)
"Smith explains why 25 years of government support through the OSO did not produce greater benefit for the UK. He seeks to show how governments and industries might more effectively manage new demands and ‚Äėpursue strategic industrial objectives while leaving market mechanisms to function with minimal interference‚Äô. These objectives have application to Australia, not least in our equally open attitude to foreign investment, with mining, agriculture and real estate all in the public eye at present. Smith's suggestions as to how Britain could have been done better are no comfort to past governments, but may, well prepare those to come for new challenges."--
Federal Gallery (Australia)
"[T]his is no less than the most important book involving the underwater industry that it has been my pleasure to have reviewed‚Ķ.There is so much wisdom woven into the fabric of this momentous book that its importance simply cannot be overstated.  It is richly endowed with analytical tables, charts, and figures and makes compulsive reading."
--Underwater Contractor International
"Smith provides an excellent conclusion that looks at the current UK energy scene and addresses the diverse industrial implications and impacts on future energy policy. This is an outstanding exposition of administration from 1963- 1993. Free-thinking technologists, politicians and energy economists should learn from the past and the current situation in order to produce sensible energy policies for the future. Clearly, this is a book to digest with an eye on strategic development, in terms of sustainable supplies and the environmental challenge."
--Materials World Magazine, 04 Dec 2011
"Detailed historical analysis of why the UK North Sea oil industry failed to establish a globally competitive offshore service and supply industry over thirty years."
--Oxford Today

Table of Contents

1. In Europe’s Sick Bay - Britain Before North Sea Oil
2. The Genesis of the North Sea Oil and Gas Industry
3. Motivations and Constraints in Early North Sea Activity
4. Before OSO: Offshore Supplies 1963-1972
5. OSO’s Formative Years 1973-1980
6. OSO’s Long March into History
7. Assessing OSO
8. Case Studies and Expert Testimony
9. Looking Back on a Thirty Year Journey
10. Postscript