2. Oil

What role does the oil & gas sector play?

UK oil & gas production is almost entirely from offshore waters on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS). Most of this is from waters closer to Scotland than to the rest of the UK; more on this in Section 3, ‘Boundaries’. (Onshore production is presently relatively minor[i] although shale gas development may be set to change that.) Since Scottish devolution began in 1999, Westminster has retained control, chiefly via the Department of Energy & Climate Change (DECC)[ii] and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).[iii] Oil & gas tax revenues are collected by the UK Treasury.

The UKCS contributes £11 billion in taxes (2012), provides 450,000 jobs (50% in Scotland) and meets most of UK demand.[iv] Since its discovery in the 1960s, North Sea oil has ‘fuelled’ the nationalist agenda and, thanks to its substantial remaining value, is central to the referendum debate.[v] The Scottish Government estimates a further 24 billion boe, valued at £1.5 trillion, to be recoverable.[vi]

The importance of the sector in the referendum debate was highlighted on 24 February 2014 when both the UK and Scottish cabinets visited the north-east of Scotland to highlight their proposals for the future.[vii]

What is the current state of the oil & gas sector?

Although production has halved from its 1999 peak (4.5 MMboe/d), high post-millennial oil prices have seen the UKCS enjoy an ‘Indian summer’;[viii] 2013 investment was a record £13 billion.[ix] Multi-nationals now focus on major West of Shetland (WoS) finds (e.g. BP Clair Ridge,[x] Total Laggan-Tormore[xi]) having divested mature assets to independents (e.g. BP Forties to Apache,[xii] Shell Northern Assets to TAQA[xiii]). New entrants include National Oil Companies (NOCs, e.g. Statoil[xiv]) and utilities (e.g. GDF-Suez[xv]). Decommissioning of redundant infrastructure (e.g. BP NW Hutton[xvi], Shell Indefatigable[xvii]) is also under way.

UPDATE (December 2014): The new Oil & Gas Authority (OGA) is due to commence activities when its first chief executive, Andy Samuel, takes up his new role in early 2015.[xviii] Whilst new North Sea developments have recently begun production (e.g. Nexen Golden Eagle),[xix] a recent rapid decline in global oil prices has impacted upon investment and employment.[xx]

How does oil & gas fit into the Scottish economy?

Scotland’s population is approximately a tenth of the UK’s (5 vs. 60 million).[xxii] Were it to acquire the majority of reserves upon independence, oil would become Scotland’s largest industrial sector, forming almost 20% of the economy.[xxiii] Therefore, whilst many issues below apply irrespective of the referendum, they are much more material in an independent Scottish context. (For perspective, note that Scotland would hold just 0.1% of global reserves;[xxiv] this is no prospective Gulf-style petro-state. Don’t expect an OPEC invitation or a World Cup hosting bid[xxv].)


[i] http://www.ukoog.org.uk/onshore-extraction/history

[ii] https://www.gov.uk/browse/business/generating-energy/oil-and-gas-exploration-and-production

[iii] http://www.hse.gov.uk/offshore/

[iv] http://www.oilandgasuk.co.uk/cmsfiles/modules/publications/pdfs/EC037.pdf

[v] http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/political-news/sturgeon-uk-wants-scotland-only-for-its-resources.15546985

[vi] http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0042/00428074.pdf

[vii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-26314009

[viii] http://www.energyvoice.com/2013/09/uk-continental-shelf-enjoying-indian-summer/

[ix] http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0041/00416072.pdf

[x] http://www.bp.com/en/global/corporate/press/press-releases/4-5-billion-clair-ridge-project-receives-approval-for-development.html

[xi] http://www.laggan-tormore.com/

[xii] http://www.apachecorp.com/Operations/UK_North_Sea/Infrastructure_information/Forties/index.aspx

[xiii] http://www.taqaglobal.com/our-regions/united-kingdom?sc_lang=en

[xiv] http://www.statoil.com/en/about/worldwide/unitedkingdom/pages/default.aspx

[xv] http://www.offshore-technology.com/projects/cygnusgasfield/

[xvi] http://www.bp.com/content/dam/bp/pdf/North_West_Hutton_Decommissioning_NEW.pdf

[xvii] http://www.shell.co.uk/gbr/aboutshell/shell-businesses/e-and-p/decommissioning/indefatigable.html

[xviii] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-29931698

[xix] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-29879241

[xx] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-29919072

[xxi] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-29821157

[xxii] http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/guide-method/compendiums/compendium-of-uk-statistics/population-and-migration/index.html

[xxiii] http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/0041/00416072.pdf

[xxiv] http://www.bpcom/content/dam/bp/pdf/statistical-review/statistical_review_of_world_energy_2013.pdf

[xxv] http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/qatar2022/


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