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Oil Under the Sea

The scramble for oil now goes on under the water as well as over the land. The big companies vie with each other to explore the sea bed in more than a dozen parts of the world and are actively prospecting for more.

As long ago as 1937 the Americans were drawing up oil from the Louisiana seaboard, though the amounts were small. But within the last few years, offshore output has gone up considerably and the search has spread to California and Alaska, Mexico and Venezuela, the Middle East and Egypt, West Africa, the Mediterranean, and now the North Sea.

Spurred on by the recent huge natural gas find in Holland, British, Dutch and German interests are already struggling hard for concessions. The French and Belgians are showing similar concern for their own coastal areas.

Why such a sudden spurt of interest in the oil under the sea? First, because the need for more and more oil is unceasing (reserves in 1939 were estimated at 40 years' supply, today they arc-reckoned at 30). Second, because even if this were not the case, no oil company can afford to let its rivals steal a march on it—this is a law of capitalism stark and simple.

The chances of finding oil under the sea are good, especially when the prospective deposits lie close to oil-bearing land areas. But the expense gives the oil companies the shivers—it is between three and nine times as costly as land prospecting and, of course, the question of coastal water limits immediately becomes an added problem. 21 countries have already signed the proposed Geneva convention on these and Germany, which has hitherto had nothing to do with it, has suddenly decided it might be a good idea to sign it after all. The convention proposes to calculate the national limit as far out as the 100 fathom line and this could cause enormous trouble since in some parts of the world the sea bottom is fairly shallow for many miles; the Straits of Dover, for example, are nowhere near this depth so that both France and Britain could technically lay claim to the entire width of the strait.

All in all, the proverb about pouring oil on troubled waters could hardly be less appropriate.