Search for Oil under Windsor Castle Envelops Canadian in Fiery Debate

Article excerpt

GERRARDS CROSS, England (AP) _ Desmond Oswald doesn't quite understand what all the fuss is about. He thinks there's oil under Windsor Castle so he's going to drill a hole and find out.

Queen Elizabeth II has given her blessing, but a number of her subjects think it's about time to rebel. The very idea of searching for oil under one of England's most cherished landmarks is "appalling," if you ask Elizabeth Still, a Berkshire County councilor.

Oswald looks at things from a purely geological perspective. In his mind, the only pertinent issues are whether he can find oil _ which he calculates at about a one in eight shot _ and if, so whether he can produce it.

"What I've got is a geologic structure sitting here that hasn't been drilled," Oswald said in an interview. "It's something that should be drilled. In any other place in the world, it would have been drilled long ago."

This is the same outlook Oswald took into the oil fields of Libya and Iran during a career that spanned three decades with Chevron Corp. Oswald, who admits to being "70ish," took early retirement from San Francisco-based Chevron during the oil bust of the mid-1980s.

Why drill under Windsor Castle?

Why not? Oswald said.

"I'm interested in this geology not to become a billionaire. If it works, it would be the highlight of my career."

Like most major oil company geologists, Oswald was accustomed to being safely anonymous, and all the attention the Windsor project is getting has caught him off guard.

Big oil companies have layers of executives monitoring projects each step of the way. Thus, nobody gets credit for a good deal but nobody is saddled with the blame when a company blows millions on a bad prospect.

At a big oil company, "if I get an idea to drill for oil and the president of the company approves it, if there's no oil, he doesn't fire me _ he approved it," Oswald said.

When oil is found, the oil company may issue a terse press release and that's that. Oswald says he didn't realize things would be any different on this deal _ his first since leaving Chevron.

"I had thought the whole thing could be done quite quietly. I thought we could just get on with the job, then if one found something it would generate a certain amount of attention."

For a while, he was right.

Oswald, a native of Calgary, Canada, began work on the project in 1989 by setting up a private company _ Canuk Exploration Ltd. He then cornered the rights to find oil under the castle by gaining a license that kept any competitors from getting in on the deal as long as Oswald follows a timetable acceptable to British regulators.

Initially, Oswald was able to study seismic tests without getting onto the castle grounds. But then came the delicate matter of gaining permission from the Crown Estate Commission, which manages royal properties.

"I pointed out that I had a license and I meant to exercise that license and I would be able to advance without being detrimental for them. …