SCOTLAND’S North Sea oil revenues fell by £1.5 billion to just over £4bn in 2013/14, official figures have revealed.
Data published by the Scottish Government disclosed that cash generated by the North Sea has fallen several billion pounds short of SNP ministers’ estimates for the most recent financial year. The Scottish Government had predicted that oil revenues were expected to be between £7.1bn and £8.3bn for 2013/14.
Pro-UK politicians last night claimed the new figures underlined that oil revenue was “volatile, uncertain and falling”.
They also claimed that the SNP government was guilty of attempting to inflate North Sea revenues to build its case for independence.
The 2013/14 oil revenue figure came to light in quarterly national accounts which showed that, in the first three months of 2014, North Sea revenue totalled £964 million.
When added to the three previous quarters, which make up the full 2013/14 year, the total figure comes to £4,005m.
Politicians had expected the revenue to be revealed in seven months when the Scottish Government publishes its Gers (Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland) figures.
Opposition figures claimed that publication was “accidental”, and the intention was for them to be made public after the referendum.
The Scottish Government, however, disputed that claim, saying that the figures had been made available on schedule.
Yesterday’s figure represents the third year in a row that oil revenues have fallen.
In 2012/13, revenues came to £5.6bn. The year before they were £10bn. But the Scottish Government has argued that the future outlook is rosier.
Conservative finance spokesman Gavin Brown MSP said: “The Scottish Government has managed to seriously undermine its own case for separation by inadvertently publishing these figures.
“It clearly wanted to keep a lid on these very disappointing statistics until after the referendum and that’s now impossible.
“The Scottish Government told us quite clearly it expected between £7.1bn and £8.3bn for 2013/14 – now it has been revealed that figure was only £4bn.
“It has to now explain why it got these estimates so spectacularly wrong for the second year in a row. This casts serious doubt on its future projections, and a large question mark over almost all of its separation costings.”
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “These new figures confirm oil revenues are volatile, uncertain and falling. The nationalist government has been desperate to inflate the value of oil in the run-up to the referendum in a desperate bid to inflate their chances of victory but have now been found out.”
At Holyrood yesterday, energy minister Fergus Ewing said North Sea production would increase in the future.
Mr Ewing said: “The oil price this morning was $103 (£61.60) a barrel. That figure is extremely satisfactory and there is nobody in the industry apart from Mr Brown that anticipates oil will be anything other than an enormous advantage, rather than a problem.” The energy minister said production of oil and gas would increase “massively” when new fields such as BP Clair and Statoil’s Mariner open up.
He said: “What a shame it is that on every occasion the Tories and their Labour friends talk down this industry, deterring young people from seeking the enormous opportunities that there are.”
He was pressed again on the issue by Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, who asked him to explain why the figure was “precisely one half of the estimate from the Scottish Government”.
Mr Ewing said he disputed Mr Fraser’s “mathematics and conclusions”, adding: “It’s clear the enormous oil wealth over the next decades will be a massive advantage provided the right decisions are taken, and sadly the wrong decisions have been taken over the last 40 years.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said it was inaccurate to suggest that it had been the intention to hold on to the figures until after the referendum.
He said: “These figures have been published on schedule and are entirely consistent with the Scottish Government’s oil and gas analytical bulletin published in May this year. The bulletin made clear that record levels of investment in the North Sea will reduce revenues in the short term. However, it also highlighted that this investment will allow new fields to come on-stream and increase production and revenues.
“It is estimated that investment in the industry will see production increase by 14 per cent between 2013 and 2018. If production and investment trends follow the industry’s own latest forecasts and oil prices remain at $110, Scottish receipts could increase to around £7bn a year.”