Fracking in the North Sea could generate £300 billion in tax revenues, according to a report backed by Alex Salmond.
The Scottish first minister used the claims to make a last-ditch effort to win the argument over the value of oil in an independent Scotland.
If estimated offshore reserves were proven and tapped, they would “propel Scotland towards the top of the global league table in terms of oil and gas production”, the report claimed.
The conclusion was attacked as pure guesswork by a leading energy academic and described as “a huge if” by the one independent oil company that is hoping to explore the resource’s potential.
However, it was welcomed by nationalists, who are desperate to convince Scots that they could balance the books with the support of oil if they break away from the UK.
Their case suffered a blow last month when Sir Ian Wood, the pre-eminent energy tycoon, said that Yes campaigners were overestimating reserves and revenues, and the economic case pointed towards remaining in the Union. […]
The report was produced by N-56, a business group that aims to find new economic strategies to boost the Scottish economy. It was founded by Dan MacDonald, a property developer who is on the board of the Yes Scotland campaign.
It contends that fracking technology now being used widely in the US to extract oil from unconventional shale source rocks could be deployed in the North Sea and yield up to 21 billion barrels of oil. This would be in addition to the estimated 15 billion barrels from the remaining conventional oil fields.
Some estimates put the figure as high as 24 billion barrels, but Sir Ian said that this was an exaggeration.
The production, from what is known as the Kimmeridge Clay source rock, could yield £300 billion in tax revenues, the report estimates.
Mr Salmond is believed to have been encouraging the offshore oil and gas industry to explore its potential.
Gordon Hughes, professor of energy economics at the University of Edinburgh, said: “There is a reason that the oil and gas described by N-56 does not appear on most estimates of our remaining reserves — at current prices and with existing technology, it does not make economic sense to extract it.
“It is pure guesswork which developments will be economic 20 or 50 years from now. In the face of such uncertainty, no responsible government would place any weight on the prospect of fiscal revenues from such extraction.”