Monday, May 19, 2008

Oil in Them There Hills - Sussex that is!

I attended the University of Sussex, which is located about half way between Brighton and Lewis, and on the edge of the Sussex Downs. Now, I see that desperation and oil prices have risen to the extent that companies are set to drill for oil there. In my day: 1979 - 1982 for my undergraduate degree (in Chemistry) and 1982 - 1985 for my D.Phil (that's Ph.D in all but name, but Sussex being unofficially entitled as "Balliol by the Sea" retained the Oxford tradition of thus describing its doctorates), there were no oil-rigs in Sussex, and nor, in that flush age of North Sea oil, would anyone have dreamed there could be.

However, it is now reckoned that up to 200 communities have oil reserves underneath their feet, which prospectors say could be worth "billions". 54 different companies have submitted 60 applications to the government to explore 182 oil "plots". The issue is sensitive, as many of these locations are villages and hamlets which are lovely, tranquil and "English" in the spirit of St. George's day which we are not allowed for some inexplicable reason to celebrate, although we do thoroughly acknowledge St. Patrick's Day, the Scots St. Andrew's Day and when I was a small boy in South Wales, we had a half day off from school in honour of St. David, the patron saint of Wales. Quite right too.

Interestingly, in this village of Caversham where I now live, we do celebrate St. George and on the 23rd of April (2 days after my Birthday, the 21st, which is the same as Her Majesty the Queen) many houses, pubs and local businesses sport the red-cross on the white background flag, which is our tradition in England. For its many historical culpabilities, England has much to be proud of, having produced some of the greatest scientists, engineers, inventors, writers and other artists the world has ever seen. We also stood up against fascism and abolished slavery. Sadly, we have always been rather poor at developing our talent into a commercial consequence, and it is often other countries that have put up the cash to do so, especially the US, a nation that is to be admired for its deliberateness in all enterprises.

According to one estimate, there may be 200 million barrels of oil under the south of England, which would be worth £13 billion, assuming a $128 barrel. If as expected by Goldman Sachs and in my humble opinion too, the price of oil reaches that diminishingly illusive $200 price, we are talking about a grand reserve of £20 billion. It may be a while before Northern petroleum begins its operations in Markwell Woods, but locals are already forming opposing ranks to the eyesore and disruption of civil local English woodland/village life, to this, the first onshore drilling programme in the UK.

The Woodland Trust has called the idea "an act of vandalism", and it would hardly be the first such act upon this soil, but this represents the destruction of around one hectare of ancient woodland, which is the choicest habitat for British wildlife. The Trust rates this as being equivalent to the destruction of the rainforests. It isn't, in terms of controlling CO2 emissions, but I think it would be a rather sad compromise, and yet the world including the United Kingdom is desperate for oil. To place the "find" in context, 200 million barrels of oil is about enough to fuel British transportation for about 6 months... followed by a return to those village communities we would have destroyed in the pursuit of it. Perhaps it might be better to focus on the inevitability of a return to the small community without the intermediary mayhem.

Related Reading.
"Search for black gold is sweeping the country." By Valerie Elliott.

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