“Merry Christmas” said the captain while swimming in oil.

Text by Arne Osmundsen, Translated by Elisabeth Hebnes

Source: NRK ”The last well”


The wealth of Norway was built thanks to discovering the great oil – and gas finds in the North Sea. The first worth operating well was actually found some time after petroleum companies had given up searching for oil and gas.


The so called oil fairytale started autumn 1960 in the Netherlands. The chief of Phillips Petroleum was driving along the coast of the north of Netherlands with his wife. While he was taking a photo of the coastline he randomly discovered an oil pump in the background.


It turned out Shell had found gas on the edge of the North Sea. Then Phillips Petroleum decided to bet their money on finding oil and gas in the North Sea. The company chose not to compete with the oil giants along the coast of Southern England and the Netherlands. The chief of the American company believed that there had to be an old and very suitable sediment reservoir further north in the North Sea.


Uncertainty if there was oil

The Norwegian government had carried out geological testing in order to search for oil or gas throughout 1958. The tests concluded and settled there were NO oil or gas in the North Sea. However this didn´t stop Phillips from believing otherwise. During October 1962 the company applied the Norwegian government for permission to search for oil and gas.


Fortunately there were a few civil servants who during the time of foreign commercial investigations questioned who owned the resources under the surface of the sea. Neither politicians or bureaucrats showed much interest in this question throughout the sixties. When foreign oil companies started to fight to get rights fortunately the Norwegian government showed enough power and managed to fight foreign commercial greediness. We now know that American oil companies had already won fights for their rights in similar situation.


North Sea split down the middle

Norwegian civil servants wanted to enforce a constitutional act of law that could state the property rights Norway had to from the western coast of Norway to the middle of the North Sea. However there would be no verification of an approval like this before the neighbouring countries had accepted an arrangement as proposed by Norway. The Norwegian government feared that powerful Great Britain would not be easy to get an agreement with, and in addition they might even claim the rights all the way to “Norskerenna”. At this time no one knew that the most of the enormous values in the North Sea was right in the middle of Norway and England. The Norwegian gambling on getting a fixed borderline was later to give the country an unbelievable prize.


Eventually Norwegian and the British government came to an agreement on where in the middle of the North Sea to draw the borders. It now turned out that the Danish government was harder to negotiate with. A fleet of small ships sailed criss-cross the North Sea to map the geology. Dynamite was fired in the sea, and cables were pulled to reveal possible radio waves from the bottom of the sea. Maps were made and evaluated. There were clear indications showing oil and gas was present on various locations.


Found oil in the recent attempt

In 1965 Phillips Petroleum secretly started to search the bottom of the North Sea. They wanted to find the best locations for oil and gas. They knew the treasure was somewhere down there.


When the first drilling searches started it demanded huge investments. Each hole had a prize worth 20 million Norwegian kroner for Phillips Petroleum, an enormous sum of money at that time. In 1968 they did a find that created some optimism, though moderate and time limited. The next year after having drilled through numerous dry holes they wanted to withdraw from the project. This was not possible since their contract with the Norwegian government demanded money however the result of their search operations. Reluctantly Phillips Petroleum agreed to drill one more hole. Onboard the “Ocean Viking” they sensed an unfamiliar smell on the night before Christmas Eve 1969. The captain was called to come out and in his pyjamas he came out on the deck to see what was going on. Quite unwilling he slipped and had a “swim” in the first oil bath. Afterwards he called Phillips Petroleum in the USA and said “Merry Christmas”.


The biggest present one could imagine was delivered. The largest oilfield on earth ashore had been found. It later was known as Ekofisk.