A ROW broke out last night over the long-term viability of Scotland’s oil reserves as the discovery of a new oil field off the Aberdeen coast sparked fresh claims of “scaremongering” by the No camp during the independence campaign.
The SNP said that the find, 150 miles east of Aberdeen in the UK Central North Sea area, demonstrated that the region’s oil industry had a “bright future ahead of it” and insisted it could have proved to be a key economic driver in an independent Scotland.
The party claimed that the latest discovery, made jointly by oil and gas explorers BP and GDF Suez, could be worth about £157 million a year at current prices, but experts warned that the final flow rate of the field was as yet unknown.
It is believed that the field is likely to yield about 50 million barrels of oil in its lifespan – compared to the nearby Alba field, discovered in the mid 1980s, which had estimated recoverable oil reserves of around 400 million barrels. Pro-independence campaigners called for Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander – who in the weeks before September’s vote highlighted figures showing that tax receipts from North Sea oil and gas had dropped by almost a fifth – to apologise for “misleading” the public.
Mr Alexander said at the time that the fall had “serious consequences for the public finances of a separate Scotland”.
Maureen Watt, SNP MSP for Aberdeen South and North Kincardine, said: “This latest discovery highlights the ongoing great success of the oil and gas sector and underlines, as we have consistently said, that the North Sea has a bright future ahead of it.
“Danny Alexander and the No campaign’s oil and gas scaremongering now looks very foolish indeed. Mr Alexander should apologise for trying to mislead the people of Scotland.”
She added: “New technology that has the potential to extend the lifespan of oil and gas fields is proving hugely significant for jobs and Scotland’s economy and I am sure there will be more good news to come regarding viability of existing oil fields and more yet-to-be discovered fields.”
But the Unionist parties denied the SNP’s claims, saying that, on a long-term basis, the discovery “changes nothing”.
North East Conservative MSP Alex Johnstone said: “What the SNP knows perfectly well is future oil projections take into account discoveries like this. So today’s announcement is encouraging but, as far as forecasts go, it changes nothing.
“If anything, it proves oil can be a volatile and unpredictable industry which is why we’re so much better absorbing those changes within the wider UK.”
Supporters of independence took to Twitter to claim they had been “duped”, questioning the timing of yesterday’s announcement, which comes just over a month after Scotland voted to remain part of the UK.
“Ever had the feeling you’ve been cheated?” asked Partick West SNP councillor Kenny McLean.
But BP said it had released the information about the find – called “Vorlich” by BP and “Marconi” by French company GDF Suez – at the “earliest opportunity”, saying the timing was driven by when drilling was completed and the drilling rig moved off location. “That did not happen until 30 September,” said spokesman David Nicholas.
Mr Nicholas told The Scotsman that the field was “far smaller” than the big finds of the 1970s and early 1980s, but described it as a “good discovery” in the current climate.
“To be frank, it is too early to see the scale of the resource,” he said. “The discoveries we tend to find in the North Sea are far smaller now than in its youth in the 1970s and 1980s, but this is noteworthy in comparison with the other discoveries we make in the UK these days.”
Initial testing has revealed the field could produce a maximum of the equivalent of 5,350 barrels of oil per day but BP said it was not yet clear whether that flow rate would continue.
“It is too early to say,” said Mr Nicholas. “That is a good flow rate, which is very promising, but the eventual flow rate depends on a range of factors.”
The find was welcomed by Oonagh Werngren, operations director at trade body Oil & Gas UK, who said the industry needs to improve its efficiency “as a matter of utmost importance” to compete in the global market. “At a time when exploration in the UK Continental Shelf is facing severe investment and cost pressures, it is heartening to see two UK explorers apply their expertise to understand the risks of the CNS [central North Sea] and demonstrate that there are still significant economic plays to be developed within the basin,” she said.
“The UK Continental Shelf needs to secure substantial investment and increase exploration and this will come both through an improved fiscal regime and better technical understanding of the basin.”
In August, oil services tycoon Sir Ian Wood suggested there were only about 15 billion to 16.5 billion barrels of recoverable oil left in the North Sea.