THE stunning coastline around Aberlady Bay has inspired authors and artists with its beauty and wildlife; but if a New Zealand businessman had had his way 50 years ago it could now be a very different landscape.

In 1967, as the hunt for offshore oil reserves was at fever pitch, there was surprise when oilman Keith Collins launched a £1million bid to discover ‘black gold’ in East Lothian waters.

Mr Collins, who was a founder of small UK company Ball & Collins, had, it was revealed in October 1967, been granted production licences for a triangle of water off the coast between Aberlady and North Berwick.

Such was his excitement at the prospect of finding oil and gas there that Mr Collins told The Haddingtonshire Courier at the time that he was ready to spend £1million on exploration.

He said that his geologists had already looked at the East Lothian area and had a theory that there was a huge amount of oil to be plundered. What was under the sea was probably also under land, they claimed.

The rather fanciful plans to drill off East Lothian came as a surprise to renowned county planning officer Mr F. P. Tindall when notification of the licence being granted apeared in the Edinburgh Gazette, the official record of H.M. Stationary Office.

Mr Tindall told the Courier at the time: “I had not even heard of such a search being considered.

“From what I knew of the area I would be doubtful if oil or gas were to be found there, but I don’t suppose these people would be prepared to spend a lot of money unless they had something to go on.”

And the planner warned that while industry was welcome it had to fit in alongside the natural resources of the county.

He warned: “We will lay out a red carpet for these oil people – but it will be a narrow one and we will try to make sure they keep to it.”

Keith Collins himself was reported to be a former major who served in the Middle East during the Second World War.

After the war he stayed in Egypt, where he became a supplier of food to British forces in the Suez Canal area and made a small fortune.

His business, it was claimed, was confiscated when President Nasser came to power in Egypt and he moved to Libya, becoming a food supplier for drilling companies and amassing another fortune before Gaddafi came to power and he was forced to move on.

During his time in Libya he fell in love with drilling and once in England set up his own company Ball & Collins with business partner Roland Shaw.

Shaw, it was rumoured, was an American Air Force pilot with links to the CIA.

It is not clear why these plans were never progressed: they may have lacked substance or funding.

Mr Collins sold his shares in the company to Mr Shaw in 1974, who renamed the company Premier Oil.

He would build Premier Oil into a £500million company and go on to found Brindex, the association of independent British oil companies, and become the public face of the industry.