By Martin Kelly
Labour MP Alistair Darling has been called on to withdraw remarks after accusing First Minister Alex Salmond of lying about north sea oil reserves.
The Scottish National Party has challenged the Chairman of the No campaign to withdraw a false statement he made on BBC Good Morning Scotland when he said it “simply isn’t true” that there are billions of pounds left of revenue from North Seal and gas.
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland, Mr Darling was asked how much oil he believed was left in the north sea when he replied: “Alex Salmond claimed there was… billions of pounds out there, which simply isn’t true.”
Alistair Darling says claims billions of oil left “untrue”
However, Mr Darling’s claim has unravelled with official UK Government figures showing there are billions of pounds of North Sea revenues generated each and every year. Forecasts for years up to 2017/18 suggest tax revenues of £33.9 billion for the UK Exchequer.
A recent Scottish Government analysis based on industry production forecasts estimated a mid-point of £48 billion of tax revenues up to 2017/18.
Mr Darling’s comments followed attacks by the anti-independence campaign on SNP plans to create an oil fund. Unionists have mounted a coordinated attack on the plans, questioning the integrity of the Scottish Government and the First Minister.
It isn’t the first time Mr Darling has had his own figures questioned. In July the Labour MP accused Mr Salmond of having exaggerated the amount of oil and gas left in the North Sea after the First Minister suggested around 24 billion barrels remained.
Mr Darling insisted that the actual figure was one-twelfth of the First Minister’s figure.
The Better Together Chief was left red faced when it emerged the UK Government had already published a document which endorsed Mr Salmond’s view, which said, “…a further recovery of 15-24 billion barrels could be achieved with further new investment.”
In a further blow to Mr Darling’s credibility, it has also emerged that in 2007, Mr Darling himself confirmed the amount of oil left in the north sea.
Mr Darling, then Trade and Industry Secretary, said: “There are potentially more than 20 billion barrels of oil and gas still available to be produced, which is good news for industry, our economy and energy supply.
“The oil and gas sector is one of the UK’s most important industries…”
Commenting, SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson who convenes the Finance Committee said:
“Alistair Darling’s interview was a catalogue of errors and gaffes, but the most serious is that he denied there are billions of pounds worth of tax revenues left in the North Sea, which is arrant nonsense – even on the UK Government’s own forecasts.
“In the coming six years alone, tens of billions of pounds of tax revenues will be generated from the North Sea, and Scotland’s offshore industry will be generating wealth for decades to come.
“The only question is whether the people of Scotland will get the benefit by voting Yes, or if the Westminster Treasury continues to grab the money.
“This isn’t the first time Mr Darling has got his oil figures hopelessly wrong – he previously suggested there are only 2 billion barrels of oil and gas left, even though the UK Government cite the 24 billion barrels figure, and Mr Darling himself said there are more than 20 billion barrels left.
“Mr Darling will say anything to talk down Scotland’s resources and abilities to be an independent country, no matter how absurd and factually incorrect. I am challenging him to accept that he has made basic blunders and withdraw his false statements in the interests of an informed and honest debate.”
The claim from Mr Darling that there is less oil to be extracted than is the case, follows a recent admission from another former Labour Chancellor that the Labour party hid the true worth of oil from the Scottish electorate in the 1970s.
Speaking in May, Denis Healey said: “I think we did underplay the value of the oil to the country because of the threat of nationalism…”
The Scottish Government estimates there is at least 24 billion barrels of oil remaining which is worth £1.5 trillion. The figures are backed by industry insiders and academics.
Speaking earlier this year, Chief Executive of Oil and Gas UK, Malcolm Webb said that tax revenues from the sector can now be confidently expected to rise over the coming years.
Speaking to energy magazine ‘Enterprising Energy’, he said: “…the projects approved in 2011 and 2012 alone will over time produce more than two billion barrels of oil and gas, generate £100 billion value for the economy and an additional £25 billion in production taxes for the Exchequer.”
Challenging claims that the sector is running down, Mr Webb added: “The North Sea oil and gas sector, contrary to what some sources say, still has a long productive life ahead of it; we estimate 50 years or more.”
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