In the 1980s, the petroleum policies of the United Kingdom and Norway began to deviate in some important ways. So far, the deviation has been most visible in depletion policy but is also apparent to a lesser degree in the regulation of the offshore industry in the two countries. The differences in those two policies pale, however, in comparison to the opposite approaches the countries eventually took to the direct role of the state on the continental shelf. Norway maintained close continuity with the previous decade by continuing the state's direct participation offshore through Statoil, although the company's phenomenal power and growing independence eventually led politicians to question the wisdom of the participation policy. By decade's end, changes had taken place, but the state did not engage in a fundamental transformation of participation policy. In Britain, something quite different occurred. The new Conservative government was at first reluctant to act on its often proclaimed desire to change the nature of government involvement offshore, but by 1987 the state had completed a total withdrawal from the continental shelf and had divested itself of its national oil and gas companies. In this chapter we explore these developments in participation policy in the 1980s.
Thatcherite Conservatives eager to extend the free market in Britain naturally attacked the state's ownership of vast portions of the British economy, including its holdings in the North Sea. But the attacks were not backed by a definite strategy for releasing these