Scottish independence: Alex Salmond's government accused of exaggerating North Sea oil reserves

Scottish billionaire businessman warned their predictions may be 65% too high, claiming North Sea oil reserves could run out in 15 years

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The Independent Online

A hugely influential oil tycoon has accused Scottish leader Alex Salmond’s government of massively over-estimating the North Sea oil reserves, coming out strongly against Scottish independence.

Sir Ian Wood, a billionaire businessman born and educated in Aberdeen, warned predictions of reserves may be as much as 65 per cent over the mark, with Scotland having only 15 years left before depleting oil reserves affected jobs and the economy, in an interview with Energy Voice.

The Scottish businessman also believes oil and gas revenues generated from industry tax over the next five years to be 40 per cent less than the Scottish government’s prediction – working out to £370 less for every man, woman and child in Scotland every year.

The remarks are a bleak rebuttal to the figures often quoted by Mr Salmond, and used in pro-independence White Paper, of 24 billion barrels of oil – of which Sir Wood cited only 15 to 16.5 billion barrels would be viable in a “best outcome”.

A spokesperson for Business for Scotland said other experts did not agree with Sir Wood's remarks.

Professor Alex Kemp, University of Aberdeen, said half of the value remains to be exploited and that the estimates "do not take account of undiscovered reserves".

The Yes Scotland pro-independence campaign have repeatedly claimed the value of North Sea oil reserves to be at £1.5 trillion, a number dismissed as fanciful by the Treasury and other economic voices.

Despite claiming “no allegiance to any party or campaign”, the interview with Energy Voice is likely to be highly damaging to the Yes campaign, especially considering Sir Wood was lauded by Mr Salmond earlier this year after authoring a major UK government-commissioned study into maximising North Sea production.

Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor and head of the pro-UK Better Together campaign, said Wood's analysis "fatally undermines" Salmond's oil predictions and "blow apart Alex Salmond's plans for funding schools and hospitals."

Mr Darling added that it was "devastating for his ridiculous claims on pensions and on jobs".

Following Sir Ian's comments, Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said to the BBC there is "a wealth of expert opinion on the huge scale of Scotland's long-term oil and other energy reserves".

He added: "This is ultimately a debate about exactly how big Scotland's remaining oil reserves are, and most countries are not nearly lucky enough to be in that fortunate position.

"The estimate of up to 24bn barrels of oil remaining is the industry's own projection - and Sir Ian's own recent report also referenced the remaining reserves in the North Sea as being up to 24bn barrels, meaning there is potentially as much still to come in value terms as has already been extracted."