Depletion policy is the regulation of petroleum production by the state according to some notion of what constitutes the ideal rate of extraction for the society. In the 1970s the governments of both Britain and Norway declared their intention to regulate production and created a variety of instruments that could be (or already had been) used to influence the rate of oil and gas depletion on the continental shelf. We have seen or will see in subsequent chapters how several of these tools of intervention--for instance, licensing policy and tax rules--were used somewhat indirectly to affect extraction rates. In this chapter we will examine how the governments of Britain and Norway employed, or refused to employ, more direct controls on production or field development as a result of evolving depletion policies.
During this period, both governments started out at similar points but ended far apart. The Thatcher government began by flirting with an oil depletion policy, gave it up, then floundered over whether or not to continue its loose control of gas production. In the end the government abandoned any idea of exercising its right to govern petroleum depletion. Norwegian authorities set about using their tools of intervention to enforce a depletion policy that changed slightly but remained central to their governance of offshore petroleum activities. In maintaining control over depletion the state left itself vulnerable to a wide variety of pressures, both domestic and international. Much of this chapter is devoted to examining the Norwegian state's reaction to this multitude of competing forces.
At the close of the 1970s, depletion policy in Britain existed in a