More evidence of distorted view of North Sea oil

Watching Jonathan Dimbleby’s otherwise excellent programmes on Russia. He was at a BP base in Siberia when he drew a contrast between the industry there and the oil and gas industry in the UK.

"For Britain oil was a tiny part of our wealth,” he stated.

Oil platform

Wrong on two counts, I believe. Firstly, North Sea oil and gas was not a tiny part of our wealth by any measure I know. Secondly, North Sea oil and gas is most certainly not in the past tense.

His fellow TV commentator Andrew Marr has a very different view.

“Without oil the great squeeze and shake out of the economy might very well have broken the back of the government,” Andrew Marr asserted in his Modern History of Britain. “So what was achieved by all the roustabouts, engineers, divers, pilots and the financiers was epic and central.”

Marr went on to lament the lack of recognition for the role of the industry in the UK economy. “It's as if an attempt was made to airbrush this industry out of Britain's national story — which would be shameful,” he said.

Has Jonathan Dimbleby been a victim of that airbrushing? Or does he really think that oil and gas in the North Sea was that insignificant?

Let’s look at the “tiny part” that oil and gas plays in the wealth of the UK:
  • In terms of GVA (gross value added) North Sea oil and gas is probably the UK’s biggest industry
  • It is estimated to support half a million quality jobs in the UK.
  • North Sea oil and gas meets 75% of the UK’s prime energy needs and that is expected to rise to 80% by 2020.
  • The UK remains a bigger oil producer than Kuwait.
  • It contributes £35 billion per annum to the UK balance of trade.
  • The annual tax take is between £9 and £12 billion.

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