January 5, 1995 in Nation/World

Is Windsor Castle Sitting On A Gusher? Queen, Planners Ok Exploratory Oil, Gas Drilling Despite Protests

Associated Press
 

Oil royalty could take on a new meaning, as a Canadian entrepreneur tries to strike it rich under Windsor Castle.

Oilman Desmond H. Oswald won permission Wednesday to sink a test well under the 900-year-old landmark that Queen Elizabeth II uses as a favorite weekend retreat.

The queen had already given Oswald her blessing to drill in the garden, but local politicians tried in vain to convince Berkshire County planners that it just doesn’t seem right to go poking around for oil beneath Windsor Castle.

No doubt mindful of recent fires at the castle, they worried that an oil well blowout could come next. And could an oil boom litter the regal landscape with petroleum pumping units, which the British call “nodding donkeys?”

Besides, with British oil output in the North Sea hitting recent levels that angered OPEC, why go scrounging around under such a vital piece of the nation’s heritage to find a few extra barrels?

“It isn’t as if the lamps are about to go out all over,” said council member Elizabeth Still. Her verdict on the drilling plans? “Appalling.”

Oswald, managing director of Canuk Exploration Lt., who spent most of his four decades in the oil business with Chevron Corp., said the critics simply don’t understand the business.

“I hope I’m bringing sense to people who don’t have any,” Oswald told a reporter.

He said that if he finds viable oil, he can get it out of the ground using equipment more than a mile away. Oswald estimates he has a 1-in-8 chance of finding oil or natural gas when he drills next summer at a cost of $600,000.

Oswald says seismographic studies have indicated Windsor Castle could be sitting on a perfect geologic formation to hold oil or natural gas. He estimates that if the oil is there he could get a field with between 50 million and 100 million barrels, worth up to $1.6 billion.

“I would hope the people of Windsor would be as proud to have an oil field beneath the land as having a castle above it,” said Oswald.

Under English law, the naysayers have no way to block the drilling.

Unlike the United States, where some high-profile oil projects in California and Alaska have been put on hold for years as environmentalists and their lawyers battle petroleum companies, Wednesday’s vote by the Berkshire County Development Control and Waste Regulation Committee cannot be challenged.

The committee chairman who favored Oswald’s proposal, Don Beer, played down any dangers. Windsor Castle, right under a flight path into London’s Heathrow Airport, probably runs more risk of a plane crash than an oil blowout, he said.

The tabloids are having great fun with the story, depicting the queen wearing a Stetson cowboy hat and hobnobbing with cigar-chomping tycoons out of “Dallas.”

But the government would collect any royalties from the oil.

© Copyright 1995 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


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