ALMOST 17 billion barrels of oil are set to be recovered from the North Sea over the next 30 years following a £134 billion investment by oil and gas companies, according to a leading industry economist.
The vast majority of the new developments will be in traditionally Scottish waters while production from the older gas fields in the southern North Sea begin a dramatic decline.
In a new economic report, Alex Kemp, professor of Petroleum Economics at Aberdeen University, has also warned that if long-term economic recovery is to be maximised, leading oil companies will have to increase their exploration efforts and facilitate speedier and more efficient access to offshore infrastructure.
The latest report by the respected economist was seized on last night by both sides in the independence debate, in which the future of North Sea oil is expected to play a crucial role.
A spokesman for the Better Together campaign said: “It is clear that the long-term impact of dwindling oil revenues means that an independent Scotland would face very serious challenges due to its reliance on a single revenue stream.
“Being part of a larger, diverse UK economy is in Scotland’s best interests. There is no doubt that we are better together with the rest of Britain.”
But a spokesman for Yes Scotland argued that the report showed ample economic opportunity for an independent Scotland.
“Current UK policy doesn’t maximise economic opportunity for this leading Scottish industry, and we have seen examples under this and previous Westminster governments of it being badly undermined by crude cash grabs,” he said.
“A Scottish government would do a better job of husbanding Scotland’s natural resources than a UK government ever will.”
In their last economic report, Prof Kemp and colleague Linda Stephen forecast that up to 19 billion barrels of oil could be extracted from the North Sea over the next three decades.
Prof Kemp explained that he had revised the figure down to a projected 16.8 billion barrels of oil because of a significant fall in exploration activity over the past two years.
He said: “Although the outlook still shows a big potential, we are not quite so bullish as we were last time – despite all the new tax allowances, which have helped a lot.
“Despite that, we are saying oil production will revive and grow over the next few years.
“The new study highlights the substantial remaining potential from the UK Continental Shelf but concludes that, if long-term economic recovery is to be maximised, there is a need to increase the exploration effort above recent levels.”