There Was a Good Reason To Develop North Sea Oil and Gas

The recent (apparent) sabotage of the NordStream gas line from Russia to Germany–and the effects of the loss of Russian energy to Europe–is a reminder to some of us of some fairly recent history about Europe and energy that bears repeating. Europeans used to be a lot better about remembering history than Americans, but it seems that they have adopted our perspective, much to their detriment.

Vulcan’s offshore hammers were first developed in the Gulf of Mexico, and from there went around the world. The North Sea, however, posed some serious challenges that were unknown in places such as the Gulf of Mexico, the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia and other active areas of offshore petroleum development. With its short construction season and nasty weather the rest of the time, both the design and construction of offshore platforms faced challenges unknown in sunnier places. As a result specialised technologies were developed in the area, foremost in Vulcan’s perspective being hydraulic underwater impact hammers.

But all of this leads to the obvious question: why develop energy production in such a difficult environment? The answer was simple: Europe has traditionally been “oil and gas poor” from the start. Surrounding areas (like Russia, Azerbaijan and the Middle East) had plentiful petroleum resources, but not Europe. When oil was discovered in the North Sea, it seemed like the answer to those few Europeans who still prayed.

Most of the development took place in the British and Norwegian sectors, although Denmark and German contributed their part, especially in natural gas. The Europeans persevered in their efforts and were rewarded with oil and gas production in “safer” places than before. That safety was underscored by events in 1973 with the first oil embargo, and reinforced by the wild ride that was energy in the 1970’s and early 1980’s.

At this point, however, the Europeans started to listen to voices from across the pond, which lured them into duplicated two fatal mistakes whose price will be higher for the Europeans than the Americans.

The first was an unthinking belief that all carbon-based energy could be replaced with renewable sources such as wind and solar. At this point in the technology these cannot be relied upon to produce a consistent, baseline power source that is necessary for our technological civilisation.

The second is that, during the transition, if the production of energy could be driven out of the home country, its environmental effects could be ignored. That’s as stupid as it sounds, but it made the United States a net energy importer for many years, as oil exploration was blocked in many cases. Europe is now experiencing the same on steroids.

So how do we deal with reducing carbon emissions? Well, we have another 1970’s example from Europe to fall back on: nuclear power. The French, with little direct access to North Sea oil and gas, turned to nuclear power to insulate themselves from oil shocks from the east. The result was energy without the instabilities of the Middle East, and without carbon output. Although it looks like some people in Europe are seeing daylight on this issue, the Germans and Belgians continue to close nuclear power plants and refuse to restart others, even in the face of a very cold winter.

Energy security is still an important consideration for nations. That’s the lesson of North Sea oil and gas (and France’s nuclear program as well.) Our elites may still be acting as if history has ended, but the longer they do this the more likely it is that it will.


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