Friday, 3 January 2014

West coast oil exploration with independence

The SNP Scottish Government has confirmed oil exploration off the west of Scotland could go ahead if there is a ‘YES’ vote in next September’s Independence referendum.

Two-months ago the3towns reported that Saltcoats-man David Lambie, the former Labour MP for Central Ayrshire, had spoken of conversations he had in the 1980s, in which he was told by Tory MPs that recoverable oil deposits had been located off the Ayrshire coast, but that the UK Government, led by Margaret Thatcher, would not allow fields to be developed because the oil lay beneath waters used by nuclear submarines entering and leaving the Royal Navy base at Faslane on the Clyde.

Mr Lambie, now aged 88, represented Central Ayrshire between 1970 and 1983, and was then MP for the redrawn constituency of Cunninghame South until he retired at the 1992 UK Election. 

Of the west coast oil controversy, Mr Lambie said, “One of the Tory MPs I was friendly with at the time told me privately that there was oil there but any further exploration was being blocked by the Ministry of Defence because it was a part of the sea they used for exercises and training.”

The respected former politician said oil company BP had been told to “walk away” from an application to develop fields off the west coast, adding, “I was furious – if the people in my constituency had the choice between naval exercises and oil jobs I know which one they would choose.”

Now, Fergus Ewing MSP, the SNP Scottish Government’s Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Tourism, has confirmed that a vote for independence in the 2014 referendum would open the way to new applications for drilling-rights to explore potential oil and gas fields off the west coast of Scotland.

Mr Ewing’s comments came in response to questions posed by Norman Geddes, Managing Partner of an Ayrshire-based firm of solicitors and Executive Chairman of the Elite Ayrshire Business Circle.  Following the reports that Westminster had prevented development of oil exploration off the Ayrshire coast, Mr Geddes wrote to First Minister Alex Salmond, seeking clarification on what would be the position should Scotland decide to become an independent country next year.

Replying to Norman Geddes on behalf of Mr Salmond, Fergus Ewing said, “With independence, Scotland will obtain full control of offshore licensing and leases, which will create new opportunities to deliver community benefits from offshore development, while giving due regard to the diverse marine environment.  If there are exploration opportunities off Scotland’s shores then it is clear that these should be fully considered and encouraged, where appropriate to do so.”

The Energy, Enterprise and Tourism Minister added, “All proposals for exploration will be considered on their individual merits, and I would reiterate there will be no ‘no-go’ areas for exploration in Scottish waters.”

Norman Geddes said, “If oil and gas are discovered off our coastline in recoverable quantities, it would transform the economy of Ayrshire and South-West Scotland, and also provide a significant boost to the prosperity of Scotland as a whole.”

the3towns has spoken to a senior figure in the oil industry who said, “There is no doubt there are substantial oil reserves off the west coast of Scotland.  Tests were carried out in the 1980s, which revealed economically viable oil fields.  That was then, when the technology was not as advanced as it is today.  Using 21st Century technology, the potential for recovery of deposits is even greater.”

In the 1980s there were suggestions that the owners of Ardrossan Harbour were reluctant to sell-off any land – even large areas that were lying derelict and unused – because the port was the most likely to be used to service any oil fields off the west coast. 

However, rather than being transformed into a wealthy new Aberdeen, the intervening years have seen Ardrossan and the surrounding area decline into one of the most deprived parts of Scotland, with very high levels of unemployment and poverty.

Opinion polls consistently show a majority of Scots oppose Trident nuclear submarines and missiles being housed on the Clyde.  The SNP has said nuclear weapons would be removed from Scottish waters and land as soon as possible after Scotland re-takes its independence. 

The Independence Referendum will be held on September 18th.

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