Why do we talk about “Scottish industry” but “UK oil?” or “Scottish banks” but “UK oil”? Is this a form of internal censorship, and if so, why do we do it to ourselves? If you use the term Scottish oil you immediately reveal your political affiliation. Yet it does lie within our waters, so the phrase shouldn’t be controversial. You might be forgiven for thinking that the ownership of North Sea oil is something of a tired old story. But recent discoveries in the waters off northern Scotland demonstrate otherwise. Just last month a consortium of companies announced the most significant new find in the North Sea for almost a decade. The Catcher field, which lies about 180 miles East of Aberdeen, is estimated to contain 350 million barrels. To put that in perspective, the average new find is 20-30 million barrels.
The above is an extract from my Scotsman column today. I felt moved to write it after listening to the ludicrous suggestions from US senators that Scotland did a deal over Libyan oil when we don't even control our own oil. I have always been of the belief that more needs to be made of the injustice that sees massive revenues leave Scotland for the Treasury. If this was happening in a developing country there would be cries of exploitation. But we are told we are subsidised by London. And many of us believe it. Talk about psychological colonialism. The money Scotland sends south MUST inform the forthcoming debate about the suggested cuts in The Beveridge report. If the British economy is relying on oil revenues to stay afloat in the next few years imagine the difference these revenues could make to Scotland. Yet we still get conned by the suggestion, included in the Calman report, that our oil wealth is somehow bad luck, that it gives us an lob-sided petro-economy which needs England to "balance it". Are we really so gullible as to fall for this suggestion we'd be better off WITHOUT the oil?
Here are some useful links to the factual articles that back up my arguments.
- The Catcher field, biggest oil find in a decade discovered off Aberdeen in June 2010
- Petroleum World article on how there is plenty of oil left The North Sea and why oil companies often understate reserves.
- Expert oil economist Alex Kemp explains why The Calman Commission has got it wrong on oil revenues
- Oil and Gas UK, the industry body, on how the North Sea is "Britain's engine out of recession".
- The official Treasury (GERS) figures show how North Sea oil revenues would put and independent Scotland into surplus for the last three decades.
- For more on the history of this topic go to oilofscotland.org
I should also briefly address the concerns of a friend who rightly points out that the column ignores the carbon issue. He is correct, but the topic requires a blog/column of its own. I would say that the fossil fuel levy can help us develop renewables using a tax on oil, gas and coal, but the coalition government are still withholding Scotland's share - £188 million. Carbon capture would go a long way to deal with the issue of burning oil, but again we can only really develop this properly with the tax and decision making powers of independence. The engineering expertise developing renewables is often an oil industry spin off. The revenues we gain from having access to our own oil will allow us to give further encouragement to this kind of engineering. It would enable us to establish an unrivaled renewables sector and build the grid to transport the surplus green energy. Does anyone honestly believe that's how Westminster will spend the £50 billion North Sea bonanza flowing its way over the next few years?