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George Williams 1917-2016

stghjShell geologist who foresaw the hydrocarbon potential offshore Brunei and beneath the northern North Sea.

George Williams was born on 6 August 1917, attended Truro School, and read for the Natural Sciences Tripos at St John’s College, Cambridge, majoring in geology.  He was due to join Shell on 5 September 1939 but war was declared two days earlier.  On 4 September Shell suspended the job offer with the assurance that it would be honoured after the War.  George was commissioned in the Royal Air Force.  In June 1944 he was promoted Wing Commander and appointed to command No. 36 Squadron flying Wellington XIVs on anti-submarine patrols.  He held this position until the end of the war.  In later years, George served as President of the No. 36 Squadron Association.


In 1946 George became a Shell geologist.  After assignments in British Somaliland and Indonesia, he was appointed exploration manager with Shell D’Arcy Petroleum in Nigeria.  He was in the team that made the country’s first oil discovery, the Oloibiri Field in the Niger Delta, in January 1956.  This event started a pattern that was to continue.

In late 1957 George joined the recently formed Brunei Shell Petroleum (BSP) initially as exploration manager and ultimately as managing director.  The major milestone was Brunei’s first offshore discovery, by the Southwest Ampa-1 well, in 1963.  In recognition of his service to the protectorate, the Sultan of Brunei conferred on George the honorary State title 'Dato'.

Following his return to the UK in the spring of 1964, George became managing director of Shell UK Exploration and Production.  He oversaw the development of southern North Sea gas fields and pursued oil exploration on the UKCS north of 54 degrees.  His vision materialised with the discovery and subsequent development of the Auk, Brent, Cormorant and Dunlin Fields.  George was appointed OBE by Her Majesty the Queen in 1968.

UKOOA & beyond  

After leaving Shell in 1973, George became Director-General of the UK Offshore Operators Association (UKOOA).  This allowed him to promote cooperation between North Sea operators and to represent the views of the upstream petroleum industry to the British government.  George served on NERC from 1976-1983.  George was awarded an honorary DSc by Heriot-Watt University in 1979 and was appointed CBE by Her Majesty in 1983.  He retired from UKOOA in 1986.

George retained a keen interest in geology throughout his retirement years.  In 2006 he made a return visit to BSP.  Our latter-day discussions included how to prevent geology from becoming subordinate to the computer and whether geological data are being used to the full in contemporary subsurface studies.  He was an FGS for seven decades.  

George lived in Ascot for many years.  He died on 1 December 2016 after a brief illness, eight months before his 100th birthday.  His life was one of seeing opportunities and bringing them to fruition for the benefit of people.  George leaves his wife, Annick, his daughter, Susan, and his two grandchildren.

†By Paul F Worthington