University of Leicester
2021PymJPhD.pdf (4.7 MB)

Managing Innovation Under Nationalisation: the British Gas industry and the first trans-oceanic transportation of Liquefied Natural Gas: 1954-1959

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posted on 2021-11-30, 13:43 authored by Jeffrey G. Pym
This thesis interrogates a scarcely remembered “world first” event in February 1959 when a rebuilt war-surplus cargo ship, called the Methane Pioneer, arrived at newly completed terminal facilities built for North Thames Gas on Canvey Island in Essex. It was carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG) sent from Lake Charles in Louisiana. On arrival it was unloaded and its cargo was transferred through novel cryogenic pipelines to innovative cryogenic storage tanks. It was the crowning achievement of a joint venture between America’s biggest abattoir company, an American oil distribution company and a nationalised British gas company. It contributed to the survival of Britain’s gas industry by paving the way for conversion to natural gas and facilitated the establishment of a new global industry for transporting LNG. Drawing on an extensive range of archives and contemporary publications, including unlisted material in the British Gas Archives, the thesis answers key questions about the project. It shows how and why it gained political support in the face of opposition from some MPs with coalmining interests and how that support facilitated a change in the law governing importation of petroleum products. It answers what permissions were required to bring into Britain what was seen as a potentially hazardous cargo and how ministerial support eased the granting of regulatory authorities to import the cargo on to the residential Canvey Island, frustrating opposition from the local authorities. It shows how engineers in the North Thames Gas Company overcame numerous technical challenges, many at the boundaries of contemporary scientific understanding. They ranged from cryogenic metallurgy to thermal stress management, handling extremely low temperature cargos, insulation and welding exotic alloys. At a time when modern project management techniques were still inchoate, it shows how the risks and uncertainties involved were managed or mitigated. It answers how the British gas industry was managed after nationalisation, how it retained the technical and technological skills from the pre-nationalisation gas undertakings and particularly how the skills and ethos of the Gas Light and Coke Company were inherited by North Thames Gas. At a time of strict financial and foreign currency exchange controls in the wake of the Suez crisis, it shows the financial entrepreneurialism needed to raise the US Dollars to fund participation in the project. An essential skill demonstrated by the British gas industry was its ability to manage its part in a project divided by the Atlantic Ocean, demonstrating competence in Anglo-American relationships. Together the answers contribute to historical understandings by revealing the ability of a British nationalised industry to manage successful innovations in collaboration with international partners.



Sally Horrocks

Date of award


Author affiliation

Department of History

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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