UK Government accused of “massive cover-up” over potential west coast oil bonanza

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  By Angela Haggerty
 
The UK government has been accused of conducting a “massive cover up” after it was revealed that a potential oil boom off the west coast of Scotland was blocked by the Ministry of Defence in the 1980s.
 
The results of an investigation by SNP MSP Chic Brodie were detailed in an article in the Sunday Post which revealed how the MoD was prepared to “pull out all the stops” to block exploration by BP because Defence chiefs wanted to preserve the area in the Firth of Clyde as a training and exercise area for nuclear submarines.

Mr Brodie, SNP MSP for the South of Scotland, said: “We now have clear evidence the MoD in the early 1980s made it very clear to the Department of Energy it would not tolerate oil drilling and production in the Firth of Clyde.  This is another McCrone-type deception of the potential use of Scotland’s natural assets.

“I am angry that the people of Scotland have been deprived of the economic benefits and income that would have flowed from oil and gas production.  This is yet another massive cover up by the UK government and the people of Scotland deserve so much better.”

According to the declassified papers obtained by the MSP, seismic surveys were undertaken by BP, Horizon and the then state-owned British National Oil Corporation (BNOC) in an area south of Arran in 1981.  In the summer of that year, BP applied for a production licence covering the breadth of the Firth of Clyde.

However, by September 1981, the MoD had become involved and instructed the Department for Energy that no drilling rigs should be allowed in the area, leading to BP abandoning its plans for further oil and gas exploration.

In 1983, BP again attempted to explore the area and submitted a revised application for a production licence covering a smaller area south of Arran, and the Department of Energy requested that the MoD lift its “blanket ban” on drilling rigs.  However, in November of that year the Department of Energy warned that the MoD was still staunchly opposed to exploration drilling in the area.

BP then agreed to a licence in 1984 that would allow them to “take exploration beyond initial stages” without using drilling rigs, a deal that would prevent the company from properly testing the area’s potential.  The company eventually relinquished its licence in 1988.

While nobody can be certain how much oil and gas there may be in the area, BP said at the time that the company would not have been prepared to undertake the expense of conducting further investigations if the chances of a discovery were low, and former Scottish Secretary George Younger  told the Times newspaper in 1983 that oil companies were “playing their cards pretty close to their chests, but they are expecting something exploitable”.

The news comes as a vindication for former Labour MP David Lambie, who served as the MP for Ayrshire between 1970 and 1992, and Labour Peer Lord Foulkes, who was MP for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley at the time.

Last month, Lambie claimed he was told by key figures in Margaret Thatcher’s government at the time that there was oil in the area but that exploration had been blocked, while Lord Foulkes has spoken of being approached by a constituent who had draft maps showing that the geology of the Firth of Clyde suggested that large deposits of oil and gas would be found there.