3 NOVEMBER 1979, Page 2

Avoidable hazard.

Britain is on the brink of self-sufficiency in oil. But let's not go overboard.

Output from present North Sea oilfields is expected to reach a peak sometime in the mid-80s. If no new fields are discovered, output will fall off quickly and there'll be a widening gap between production and demand, It's a very real hazard — but an avoidable one.

We need to find more British oil; and soon, because it takes five to seven years to bring new North Sea discoveries into production.

There's almost certainly a great deal more oil out there. We won't know for sure until we find it, but Mobil (and many other oil companies) are intensifying their exploration efforts.

The Government has challenged the oil companies to deliver the goods — which will stretch all the capital, research and manpower resources the industry can muster. Tomorrow's new fields will probably be smaller than today's, so we'll need a good many more. Finding them will be no mean task.

And whatever the success of exploration, new discoveries won't be enough on their own. Britain needs to conserve oil as much as she needs to find new supplies. Increasingly, oil will have to be reserved for the Jobs it does best: as transport fuel, in petrochemicals and for lubrication.

Self-sufficiency will be a pretty short ride unless exploration is supported by conservation.

If we don't want the ground cut from beneath us, we'd better heed the warning signs now.