The North Sea oil industry is entering its final decade of production, according to new academic research that rejects Alex Salmond’s claims during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum campaign of an impending second boom.
An Edinburgh University study of output from offshore fields estimated that only around 10 per cent of the UK's original recoverable oil and gas remains untapped.
It also concluded that fracking will be barely economically feasible in the UK, especially in Scotland, because of a lack of sites with suitable geology. The researchers warned that the UK will soon have to import all the oil and gas it needs.
Official figures published last week found that oil production increased by 2.9 per cent last year following a recovery in the price. However, capital expenditure dropped by around 20 per cent and it has emerged there were 60,000 job losses in the industry last year, 20,000 more than expected.
The Scottish Government is expected to set out its view on fracking shortly after imposing a moratorium on the controversial method of extracting gas in January 2015.
The study started with a quote from Mr Salmond, the former First Minister, who predicted in March 2013 that: “There can be little doubt that Scotland is moving into a second oil boom.”
It also cited the opinion of the N56 pressure group, which was founded by Dan Macdonald, an eminent Nationalist businessman. The group claimed before the September 2014 referendum that Scotland is set for an “oil bonanza that heralds a new golden age for the North Sea lasting for another century.”
But Professor Roy Thompson, of the University of Edinburgh's School of GeoSciences, who led the study, said this was not “tenable” and noted that N56 had presented “no geotechnical evidence, from either drilling or production tests.”
He said: “The UK urgently needs a bold energy transition plan, instead of trusting to dwindling fossil fuel reserves and possible fracking.
"We must act now and drive the necessary shift to a clean economy with integration between energy systems. There needs to be greater emphasis on renewables, energy storage and improved insulation and energy efficiencies."
The study, published by the Edinburgh Geological Society, took into account the long-term downward trends of oil and gas field size and lifespan, alongside the break-even costs for fracking.
Analysis of hydrocarbon reserves shows that discoveries have consistently lagged behind output since the point of peak oil recovery in the late 1990s. The research predicted that both oil and gas reserves will run out within a decade.
Alexander Burnett, the Scottish Tories’ energy spokesman, said: “If this turns out to be the case, it will be devastating for the north east economy. It’s now more essential than ever that both the Scottish and UK governments work together to maximise what’s left in the North Sea.
“But what cannot be ignored in the wake of this report is how the SNP used North Sea oil to sell a lie to the people of Scotland.”