Environmental group blasts Alex Salmond's oil and gas pledge

The First Minister has pledged to work with oil and gas firms to maintain the sector's "vital" role in providing energy.

The coming year could see increased capital investment in the industry, which grew from £8.5bn in 2011 to a predicted £11.5bn in 2012, Alex Salmond said.

But environmental group WWF Scotland warned that the country "cannot afford" for all the remaining oil in the North Sea to be burned.

Mr Salmond, delivering what he called a new year message to the oil and gas industry, said: "I recognise how important the sector is to Scotland's economy, and I am committed to working closely with the sector to help it build on 2012's successes in 2013.

"In 2012 I launched Scotland's oil and gas strategy, developed alongside industry, which made clear that there is still much more to come. The strategy sets out the aim of maximising recovery of oil and gas.

"The value of this to the economy and exchequer is massive: 1% more recovery over the lifetime of projects means £22bn more tax revenue

"With 24 billion barrels of oil still to be recovered with a wholesale value of £1.5tn, the North Sea oil and gas sector has a bright future."

The sector is a "bedrock" of the economy, supporting 440,000 jobs across the UK, he said.

Scotland would be in a "stronger position" as an independent nation, using oil revenue to support growth and deliver public services, Mr Salmond argues.

But Lang Banks, of WWF Scotland, said the country should aim to move away from "dirty fossil fuels".

Highlighting a major oil spill from a tanker which ran aground off Shetland, he said: "With the 20th anniversary of the Braer oil disaster just a few days away, it should be remembered that this is an industry that's plagued by accidents and responsible for hundreds of oil and chemical spills every year.

"One thing we do know is that the planet certainly can't afford to allow all the oil left in the North Sea to be burned. If all the 24 billion barrels of oil estimated to be left were extracted and burned, over 10 billion tonnes of climate-wrecking carbon dioxide would result.

"That's equivalent to more than 200 years of greenhouse gas emissions from Scotland, and would increase the risks of climate chaos here and elsewhere around the world.

"For the future of people and the planet, it's time for the sun to quickly set on polluting oil and gas."