By Martin Kelly
Labour MP Alistair Darling has been challenged to withdraw his ‘ridiculous’ claim that there are only 2 billion barrels of oil left in the North Sea after he accused First Minister Alex Salmond of inflating the amount of oil left in Scottish waters.
Speaking on BBC Reporting Scotland, the former Labour Chancellor claimed that Mr Salmond had “inflated” the amount of oil left by “twelve times”.
Mr Darling, who leads the Better Together campaign said: “He [Alex Salmond] inflated the amount that he thinks is left in the North Sea to something like 12 times what the independent experts say”
However, in what will be seen as an embarrassing blunder by Mr Darling, the figure used by Mr Salmond of 24 billion barrels is an accepted industry figure, and was even used in the UK Government’s own oil and gas strategy published in March.
According to the UK government document, “There is a large enough resource base to feed supply chain field development and operations to well beyond 2050: over 41 billion barrels of oil equivalent have been recovered from the UK, but a further recovery of 15-24 billion barrels could be achieved with further new investment.”
The gaffe has prompted the SNP to demand the Labour MP withdraw his accusation immediately.
Commenting, SNP MSP for Aberdeen Donside Mark McDonald said:
“Yet again, the No campaign seem to be falling over themselves in their desperation to attack anything said by the SNP.
“Alistair Darling’s claim that there are only 2 billion barrels of oil left in the North Sea is absolutely ridiculous – contradicting even the UK Government – and he should withdraw it immediately.
“We simply cannot believe a word that Project Fear say. They are panicked by the success of Scotland’s North Sea oil industry, which they are desperately trying to claim is somehow a burden on Scotland.”
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 who said that tax revenues 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.”
MEANWHILE, Mark McDonald has welcomed the announcement from Chevron energy that it had awarded contracts worth over half a billion pounds for its Alder and Rosebank projects to companies including Aker Solutions in his Aberdeen Donside constituency.
Chevron’s press release quotes UK Energy Minister Michael Fallon who – in stark contrast to rhetoric elsewhere from the anti-independence campaign – said that “the North Sea is seeing a resurgence of investment” and “The Rosebank and Alder projects are worth billions of pounds and will unlock significant new oil and gas reserves.”
Mr McDonald added:
“This is fantastic news for Aker Solutions and I warmly congratulate them on being awarded this contract.
“On the very day that the No campaign is peddling the same old fears to the people of Scotland about the future of the oil industry, a UK Government Minister is telling a different audience about a ‘resurgence of investment’ which will unlock new oil and gas reserves.
“As today’s detailed Scottish Government paper makes clear, the North Sea oil industry has a very bright future, but only with the right handling –which is what independence offers.”