Brent Charlie, Brent Bravo and Brent Alpha in the North Sea
Shell’s Brent oil and gas field is located in the North Sea

Shell started the 1960s by strengthening its presence in the Middle East through involvement in Oman. Ignoring early disappointments as its initial partners drifted away, it was rewarded by discovering oil in Yibal, Oman’s most prolific field. This helped bring an entirely new oil country into production. The Groningen gas field in the Netherlands was also discovered at the start of the decade, followed by the discovery of gas in the North Sea.

This was a golden period of research by Shell Chemicals. It employed a number of distinguished scientists, including Lord Rothschild and Professor Sir John Cornforth. Among many inventions and discoveries in its laboratories were epoxy resins, insecticides including Vapona fly spray, herbicides and liquid detergents.

Increasing reliance on local skills and talents

During the 1960s, Shell took the decision to internationalise the company and began to pursue a policy of placing local people in top positions in a given country. The recruitment of Asian, African and South American employees was stepped up. This diversification of staff reflected the wider political changes of the end-of-Empire era, and this far-sighted decision took Shell into the modern world.

Shipping developments

The closure of the Suez Canal for eight years from 1967 confirmed the wisdom of the decision to invest in supertankers. The worldwide spread of its business and operating flexibility enabled Shell to survive the disruption to supplies caused by the difficulty of transporting oil from the Middle East.

Another major development in shipping was the start of the transport of liquefied natural gas (LNG) by sea. The first commercial scheme by Conch International Methane, in which Shell held a 40% interest, delivered LNG to the UK from Algeria for the first time in 1964. Further projects followed, in particular delivery from Brunei to Japan, starting in 1972.

Political situation impacts supplies

The 1960s were years of remarkable growth for the oil industry. However by the end of the decade storm clouds were gathering. In late 1969, Colonel Gaddafi took power in Libya after a coup. Libya at that time was the source of a quarter of all the crude oil consumed in Europe, but the new government cut production and increased prices. Soon every other oil-producing nation threatened to follow suit.

The Yom Kippur Arab-Israeli war of 1973 brought the crisis to a head. Within a matter of weeks, the OPEC producing countries quadrupled the price of oil from $3 per barrel to $12 per barrel and for two months imposed a supply boycott. The economic impact on the Western world was catastrophic, driving inflation to unforeseen heights and plunging trade into recession. An era of relatively cheap energy had come to an end.

 The first consignment of liquefied natural gas was shipped in 1964 from Algeria in the SS Methane Princess.
The first consignment of LNG from Algeria was delivered during 1964 in the Methane Princess

Diversification

To survive, Shell adopted a policy of diversification, in particular into coal, nuclear power and metals. In 1970, it purchased Billiton, an old, established, Dutch metals mining company.

In 1973, Shell moved into nuclear energy by forming a partnership with Gulf Oil to manufacture gas-cooled reactors and their fuels. The initial cost was $200 million but Shell quickly discovered that the political problems of the oil industry were multiplied in the nuclear industry, particularly after the accident at Three Mile Island in the USA in 1979, which set the industry back decades. The following year Shell sold its interests.

The third leg of the diversification policy was coal, but success was limited.

The 1970s were most remarkable for Shell’s work in developing the oil fields in the North Sea. This was the most difficult offshore work the group had ever undertaken. Although the water is not particularly deep, the weather conditions are tough and the instability of the seabed necessitated a huge investment to extract the oil. Reduced supplies from the Middle East, however, and the size of the fields in the North Sea justified the cost.

General Business Principles

The Amoco Cadiz disaster happened at the end of the decade. This tanker ran aground off the coast of France and broke up, spilling its entire crude oil cargo. Shell did not own the tanker but it did own the oil and it suffered the public backlash against oil companies as a result. The incident proved a catalyst for the industry to raise environmental standards.

In 1976, to ensure ethical business standards across its global operations, the group published the Shell “General Business Principles”. An updated version of these principles still governs Shell’s conduct in all its countries of operation today.

Further diversification

The Iranian revolution in 1979 triggered the second oil price shock as the supply of oil from this critically important country dried up. The Iran-Iraq war began later that year and added to the supply problems: the price of oil doubled and carried on rising, reaching $7 a barrel. In response, Shell sought to cut costs, renewed its search for non-OPEC sources of oil and diversified further.

In production, the group stepped up its development of offshore exploration in both the North Sea and the USA. The development of the Cognac platform was a huge technical achievement: at 335 metres (1,100 feet) tall it was a record-breaking height.

Early steps into renewable energy began with solar, with the acquisition of a 50% interest in an Australian company Solarhart. Shell also moved into forestry, producing softwoods for paper, construction and fuel. Out of this came its interest in new biofuels for transport, of which Shell is today the world’s leading distributor.

Shell headquarters, The Hague

1980s to the new millennium

Shell grows through acquisitions and unifies Royal Dutch and Shell Transport and Trading under Royal Dutch Shell plc in 2005.

Our history: 1980s to the present

1980s to the new millennium

Shell grows through acquisitions and unifies Royal Dutch and Shell Transport and Trading under Royal Dutch Shell plc in 2005.

Our beginnings

How we grew from the Samuel family shop selling sea shells in 1833 into one of the world’s leading energy companies.

The early 20th century

Shell becomes the world's leading oil company and founds Shell Chemicals to advance its refining business.

Post-war expansion

Oil demand soars and Shell expands dynamically. The super-tanker is born, Shell extends its exploration overseas and forms a partnership with Ferrari.

More in about us

The Shell brand

The Shell brand promotes our values and the quality of our products and services all over the world.