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Oil in Dorset

In Living Memory, Series 10 Episode 3 of 4

28 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 29 July 2009

BP has hit the headlines recently because of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. This episode goes back some 30 years to a time when Margaret Thatcher launched her privatisation strategy and sold the government's entire holding in BP. This coincided with a major discovery of oil in one of the most beautiful parts of Dorset. It also coincided with recessionary times and the need to generate revenue for the country. When geologists discovered what was the biggest onshore oilfield in Western Europe a dilemma arose. How could they open up a major oilfield around the Isle of Purbeck and Poole Harbour, one of the most important and protected stretches of landscape in the British Isles?

Some thought it impossible, but the oil men from BP were determined. However rather than a stand up fight with the locals they opted for a collaborative approach which has made their handling of this development a textbook example of how to develop oil drilling and production in an environmentally sensitive way. And, after a long battle and charm offensive to persuade the people of Dorset that they could drill for oil responsibly and without destroying the environment, their plans were passed. Chris Ledgard tells this fascinating story which is given more resonance by recent events in the Gulf of Mexico.


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