By a Newsnet reporter
Questions over why a recent visit to the Shetland Islands by Prime Minister David Cameron was kept secret from the Scottish public and media, have been met with silence from Number 10 Downing Street.
Newsnet Scotland can reveal that despite contacting the Scotland Office and the Press office at Number 10, in an attempt to discover why Mr Cameron’s trip was kept hush-hush we have yet to receive any answers.
The issue surrounds a visit to the islands by the Prime Minister last month. Locals were stunned on July 22nd when Mr Cameron arrived unannounced having flown from London.
The Prime Minister stayed for 24 hours and had apparently travelled all the way from London to tell islanders of a new energy deal that would save them £42 per year.
However suspicions quickly grew that there was more to the Tory leader’s secret trip than was being revealed. The west coast of Shetland is fast becoming one of the key sectors in the north sea and the visit coincided with appraisal drilling in an area known as Clair Ridge.
Rumours had been circulating that an oil find in the Clair Ridge sector was far bigger than expected. They were further fuelled when BP refused to confirm if the results had indeed suggested reserves were greater than expected.
Claims that Mr Cameron had visited a rig as part of his two day stay in Shetland were denied by the Scotland Office.
A spokesperson said: “The PM did not visit any oil rigs as part of this visit.”
Asked by Newsnet Scotland why a 1600 mile round trip to make an announcement on energy had been kept secret from the public and press, the Scotland Office advised us to contact the Number 10 press office.
Despite a phone call over two days ago and a pledge to respond to our question, Downing Street has yet to explain why the trip was kept secret.
However there was a response from BP.
Asked about the trip, a spokesperson for the oil giant denied Mr Cameron had made any contact with BP officials.
“The Cameron visit to Shetland had no connection to BP at all” we were told.
The spokesperson also denied claims that that crew on a rig had been sent home on full pay, saying: “No crew on the Paul B Loyd jnr [the oil rig carrying out drilling] have been sent home on full pay”.
The spokeswoman also told Newsnet Scotland that claims BP had discovered “vast” reserves in Clair had “no basis in fact” and that the company was “not withholding disclosure” until after the independence referendum.
The spokesperson added: “We’ve been open and transparent about Clair and that’s evidenced last year when we announced the appraisal programme we were going to do.
“We are looking on the Clair field, which we said we would do last year when we announced the appraisal programme, but as is the norm across the industry we won’t discuss individual well test results.
“That’s not because the wells are particularly bad or particularly good, no oil company will speculate on well test results until appraisal programmes are finished.”
Pressed that reports had already appeared in the media confirming appraisal results were better than expected, the spokesperson denied any knowledge of the reports, and said “None of those statements are based on any fact”.
However one of the statements was in fact made by BP chief executive Bob Dudley himself. Industry magazine Upstream said of Clair Ridge: ‘positive signals are emerging from an ongoing appraisal drilling campaign.’
Speaking at a press briefing just over one week ago, Dudley said: “We remain very enthusiastic about Clair Ridge – appraisal wells are looking good. It is helping us to define the structure out there.
“[Clair Ridge] will be a project once we get it on in the next few years that has the potential to produce until 2050.”
The waters around Shetland are known to hold considerable reserves of oil and gas which have, until now, been too difficult to extract. However advances in technology and the continued increase in oil prices have now made the fields profitable.
In June this year it emerged that another field, Lancaster, had also produced results that were greater than initial estimates.
Hurricane Energy, the company behind the find, said production tests using a pump achieved a flow rate of 9,800 barrels of oil per day, well above expectations.
Similar results were discovered in another field to the west of Shetland after Whirwind was found to be holding similar volumes of oil.
A report published in March this year by Investors Chronicle, which is part of the FT group, described Lancaster and Whirlwind as “major discoveries” and concluded that “abundant new and under-explored plays could yield significant resources.”