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About half of North Sea oil and gas reserves have yet to be extracted, Energy Minister Fergus Ewing has claimed. Mr Ewing said the amount left was beyond doubt, as he argued oil and gas would be a key element in the Scottish government’s bid to “re-establish Scottish independence”.

His remarks contrasted with a recent report by industry body Oil & Gas UK.

It suggested there could be as little as 14 billion barrels left.

This would mean Scotland has already exhausted almost three-quarters of its total reserves.

Mr Ewing told the SNP conference in Inverness: “You will have seen recently it has been confirmed beyond peradventure that the amount of oil and gas left for this country is about as much as has already been extracted.

“Except, unlike in the 80s when oil was barely more than $10 a barrel, it is now far more than that. And therefore, we have an asset which everybody knows in Scotland will drive us forward to independence.”

He continued: “Of course, our opponents have always fancied themselves as amateur geologists, because in the 70s they said: ‘It’s running out in the 80s’. In the 80s they said: ‘It’s running out in the 90s’. In the 90s: ‘It’s running out in the noughties’.

“Well, have you heard them speak now? They can’t, can they? Because they know that it is keeping 196,000 Scots in employment.”

‘Radical innovations’

The Oil & Gas UK report, which was released earlier this month, suggested there could be as little as 14 billion barrels left in the North Sea but it also presented a more optimistic figure which put the reserves at 24 billion – closer to the 30 billion already extracted.

However, the report stated it would require “radical” technical and commercial innovations to extract.

Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron called on the oil industry to “reset” academic predictions amid claims that universities believe oil and gas is already “four-fifths of the way through”.

He was speaking during a visit to BP in Aberdeen, as the oil giant announced a new £4.5bn oil project west of the Shetland Islands.

However, BP chief executive Bob Dudley said UK production had declined since 2000 “faster than many of us predicted”, and said the picture beyond 2030 was “hard to predict”.

First Minister Alex Salmond also raised the issue at the SNP conference.

He said: “When he was making the BP announcement, David Cameron claimed his geography teacher at Eton had told him that all the oil would be gone by the turn of the century.

“The Prime Minister’s memory is faulty. It wasn’t his geography teacher – it was successive Labour and Tory governments.

“Now the cat is well and truly out of the bag and we know that oil and gas will be extracted from the waters around Scotland for at least the next 40 years.”

BBC News, 22 October 2011