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1951: Refinery opens as oil row continues

The Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, has opened the largest oil refinery in Europe, at Fawley on Southampton Water.

Mr Attlee spoke from a platform specially erected for the opening. In front of him stood an audience of 6,000 technicians and workmen, American and British, who have completed the project four months ahead of schedule.

The new Esso refinery should produce 5.5 million gallons (25 million litres) of oil a day, including 1.5 million (seven million) gallons of petrol - equivalent to a third of the country's existing needs for petrol products.

It is estimated the refinery will save Britain $100m a year in foreign exchange.

Trade embargo

Mr Attlee said Fawley had been the biggest single constructional refinery job ever undertaken. American technicians and foremen had planned it and supervised the construction, but the labour employed was nearly all British.

The Prime Minister also touched briefly on the measures being taken to ensure adequate supplies of oil until the trade embargo on Persia (Iran) is lifted.

The embargo was imposed after the newly-elected Persian leader, Dr Mohammed Moussadeq, announced his decision to nationalise the country's oil industry in May.

It meant the Anglo-Iranian oil company, which accounts for Britain's largest single overseas investment, stopped production in July.

Britain is demanding compensation for future lost oil revenues.

Mr Attlee said in the meantime alternative sources of oil had to be found. Britain and the United States have been working closely together to find other suppliers and enough oil had now been found to last the rest of the year.

The prime minister said he hoped the position would improve next year. He continued: "I hope that this fact will be duly noted by all those Persians and I am sure they are the majority who do not wish to see their country ruined.

"We are anxious to come to an agreement with Persia and to resume our friendly co-operation. But the Persians must realise that a long delay may lose the market for Persian oil."

The Foreign Office has confirmed 3,000 tons of railway track equipment and 2,000 tons of sugar, which were en route to Persia, have been ordered to be returned to the UK.

In Context
Fawley oil refinery continues to be owned by Esso and is still the largest in the UK.

It employs 1,400 staff and handles 22 million tonnes of crude oil every year.

The refinery processes 300,000 barrels of crude oil every day and supplies over 15% of the UK's oil products.

The Anglo-Iranian oil company was established by a wealthy Englishman in 1908. Winston Churchill agreed to invest 2m in the company in return for oil when he was Lord of the Admiralty before World War I.

Dr Mohammed Moussadek was overthrown in a western-backed coup in 1953, inspired largely by oil interests. The new Iranian leader was Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

The Anglo-Iranian company began trading again as the British Petroleum Company. But the crisis in Iran convinced the company to look further afield for oil. In the 1960s it started to exploit new oilfields in the North Sea and Alaska.


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