One fact that is almost wholly unappreciated outside of the oil business is the obligingly shallow nature of places like the Gulf of Mexico and the North Sea. To landlubbers, the sea looks pretty much the same anywhere and, since it gets dark and eerie much below 40m depth, what does it matter? In some cases, the shallowness can have useful effects, such as enabling causeways to be built between islands in places like Orkney and Eilean nan Siar, but mostly, it’s just sea, isn’t it?
Students of paleogeography have unearthed (unsead?) some interesting history in that the North Sea was once much smaller and some 10,000 years ago, it was possible to walk from Yorkshire to Jutland, provided you splashed across the combined Humber and Rhine at some point. En route you would have passed a chain of highlands that are now being called the Dogger Hills.
As ice age snows melted, sea levels rose and the lower-lying parts flooded. Evidence that the area was inhabited are dredged up by fishermen on a daily basis. The last to submerge were the high Dogger Hills, which now lie submerged 18m-60m below the surface. The Geology of the Dogger Bank notes “a buried relief at an average level of 3 m below the sea floor was discovered. Most likely this relief represents a former glacial landscape covered with soft sediments.” So a drowned world exists out in the North Sea.
Curious as this is, you may be wondering what all this has to do with the price of cheese. Let’s imagine that the UK Govt felt threatened by Scottish independence. How could they secure a better share of the North Sea oil billions that would otherwise fall to Scotland? Well they already did that once in 2000 when the Blair government shifted the agreed maritime boundary where Scots jurisdiction ran to put 6,000 sq. km into England. If you head due East from the Forth, you actually run into England.
An evil-minded Westminster might consider a little land reclamation. With the sea bed barely a building height below the water, it is not inconceivable that an island of several sq km could be reclaimed by a ring of rock ‘seerapp’ armouring, within which sundry landfill materials could be dumped to create dry land. Its official purpose, being 100 miles closer, would be to provide close support for North Sea installations and act as a base for the many offshore wind farms being contemplated for the area. With supply bases, helicopter and rescue facilities and even a tanker and pipe terminal, it could be a business in itself.
But its covert purpose would be less obvious. At that latitude, it should be under English jurisdiction, which makes it part of England. In turn, that would cause a redrawing of the equidistant boundary that caused so much fuss when first drawn in 1999. Because it would actually steal considerably more North Sea bed than the original grab. In fact, it would place England as the dominant benefactor from North Sea oil and gas, even if Scotland would still dominate the Norwegian and Celtic Sea.
If all this sounds implausible, then consider what similar investment has done to turn three rocky islands called Macau into one of the fastest growing (literally) places in the world as it passes 28 sq km in size by filling in large sections of the Pearl River estuary.