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.

Key Features

  • Covers the entire period from the first well offshore Britain until the dismantling of the specific British industrial policy measures for offshore supplies
  • Based in large measure upon archives not previously accessed and the private testimony/papers of participants
  • 'Drills down' to the level of individual company decisions through case study and other material
  • The only properly researched description of how the world’s first major local content initiative developed


Public sector policy makers, business strategists, academics in fields of economics/industrial history, energy economics and business.

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


No. of pages:
© 2011
Print ISBN:
Electronic ISBN:

About the editor

Norman J. Smith

Norman Smith holds degrees from Oxford University (M.A.), the City University (M. Phil.) and Aberdeen University (Ph.D.). He has also participated in development programmes at Harvard and INSEAD/CEDEP. He is a Fellow of the Energy Institute and of the Society of Business Economists. His career began in engineering manufacture where he first became involved with the offshore oil and gas industry. After a spell in merchant banking, he was seconded to the Department of Energy. On his return to the private sector, he co-founded and managed an energy consulting company, Smith Rea Energy Associates Ltd (SREA) , and served as director of eight private companies in the oil and gas industry, becoming chairman of three. After retirement, he researched and authored this extensive study of the British supply chain supporting exploration and production activities in the North Sea: The Sea of Lost Opportunity: North Sea Oil and Gas, British Industry and the Offshore Supplies Office. He felt it was important that the story of this extraordinary episode in British economic and technological history should be chronicled by somebody who had been closely involved in it and that he was well qualified to undertake the task. Though now formally retired, he continues to write and would always consider a speaking engagement or even a tantalisingly interesting piece of advisory work. His website is

Affiliations and Expertise

Ex-Director General Director UK Department of Energy's Offshore Supplies Office


"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…deeply 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 ‘pursue strategic industrial objectives while leaving market mechanisms to function with minimal interference’. These objectives have application to Australia, not least in our equally open a