THE UK could be forced to rely on overseas countries for more than two thirds of its oil and gas supplies due to a "severe" decline in energy production in the North Sea, US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks have revealed.
Cables seen by The Scotsman reveal that Britain's gas and oil reserves are declining by 8 per cent a year, and that the country will import 60 to 80 per cent of its oil and gas supply within less than ten years.
A memo highlighting concerns from the then energy minister Malcolm Wicks to a senior official in the US government in March 2008 warned that to "address this deficit" the UK would be forced to "ensure a diversity of supply" and that the country would have to buy oil and gas from nations such as Qatar and Norway, with which Britain had held talks.
Mr Wicks, who was later appointed as the special representative on international energy issues of the then prime minister. Gordon Brown, told The Scotsman the exchanges were sparked by a realisation that there had been a decline in the oil and gas reserves in "Scotland's back yard" that had been known for "some while".
The cable said Mr Wicks had told US under-secretary for economic and energy affairs Reuben Jeffery that the UK was being forced to look at other sources of energy, such as renewables, nuclear and clean coal.
It said: "The UK will experience a severe decrease in North Sea gas and oil stocks by 2020, and will need to improve its diversity of supply as well as move towards 'homegrown' measures such as nuclear and renewables.
"In addition to diversifying supply, the UK is building up its 'homegrown supply' of nuclear and renewable energy and is moving towards clean coal and carbon capture."
However, Professor Alex Kemp, an energy expert at the University of Aberdeen, claimed there was still "a lot of oil and gas that's undiscovered in reserves" in the North Sea.
He said: "We have produced about 40 billion barrels of oil and gas, and central estimates suggest that there are now between 20 and 21 billion left. But the upper estimate is that there could be about 35 billion.
"There are still a lot of reserves and it's not a desperate situation. Our modelling shows that there will be oil and gas beyond 2040, but there will be much smaller production by then."
Mr Wicks told The Scotsman yesterday that "concern" about future oil and gas supplies had led to him publishing a report highlighting the issue about possible alternatives such as renewables and nuclear, while he was an adviser to Mr Brown.
He said: "The issue of oil and gas is in Scotland's back yard and we know that this is in decline and has been for some while.It was this concern, which led to the production of my report for Gordon Brown.
"There's a need to be smart about our foreign policy and we should not be over reliant on one country for energy supplies.
"We get a lot of our supplies from Norway, which is a good democratic human rights oil and gas producer."
The Scotsman and its sister paper Scotland on Sunday have had access to secret US diplomatic cables under an agreement struck with WikiLeaks, the whistleblowing organisation headed by Julian Assange. The US government has criticised The Scotsman for its tie-up with WikiLeaks, saying: "Any unauthorised disclosure of classified material is regrettable, as it has the potential to harm individuals as well as efforts to advance foreign policy goals."