A cross-party group of former ministers have demanded the Scottish government continue supporting the North Sea oil and gas industry – despite waves of protest against further development.
Ex-Home secretary Amber Rudd and the former SNP rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing signed a declaration “to ensure the continuance of a thriving sector” and called for Nicola Sturgeon’s government to “accelerate” new projects including the controversial Cambo and Jackdaw locations.
Climate activists have staged sit down protests outside a major UK government office in Edinburgh against the proposed fields in the wake of efforts to reduce reliance on energy coming from Russia.
They argue the “reckless” plans risk efforts to reach net zero by 2045, however the group, which also includes former Liberal Democrat Scottish secretary Alistair Carmichael and former energy ministers Brian Wilson and Charles Hendry, said the sector was an “essential contributor to the achievement of net zero targets”.
Mr Ewing, who previously served as energy minister in the Scottish Government stressed the importance of the North Sea, stating: “We will need oil and gas for some time to come and if we cease production here we would have to import far more carbon-intensive gas so it would make things worse, not better.
“But, above all, carbon capture and storage cannot be delivered without the skills, expertise, the workforce, the supply chain in the oil and gas industry to do the drilling, the reservoir management, the pipeline construction and maintenance, and perhaps, above all, working in the unforgiving North Sea environment safely.
“Only the oil and gas industry can do that.”
They also encouraged the UK government to ramp up efforts to develop carbon capture and storage technology, particularly the Acorn project in the north east of Scotland.
Mr Carmichael, the Lib Dem MP for Orkney and Shetland, said: “I think the political narrative has started to change, there is a realisation certainly since events started to unfold in Ukraine that the assumptions we made previously were not well-founded.
“Governments when they find themselves in that position, of any colour, always find it difficult to dig themselves out of their own holes.
“I hope if we have done nothing else today we have maybe offered them the opportunity to at least put down the shovel and get hold of the ladder to get to where we need to be.”
He said he hoped the declaration would make a “positive contribution to the debate” as he called for action from ministers in Edinburgh and London.
A spokeswoman for the UK Government said: “The Government has repeatedly said that energy security is our ultimate priority, including supporting the oil and gas sector, and its transition.
“This is why the British Energy Security Strategy sets out how we will accelerate security of supply through cheap renewables, betting big on new nuclear and maximising domestic production of gas in the North Sea.
“Through our landmark North Sea Transition Deal we are backing the decarbonisation of the oil and gas industry while supporting tens of thousands of jobs across Scotland and the wider UK, ensuring high-skilled workers are not left behind.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Scottish Government’s position is clear that unlimited extraction of fossil fuels is not consistent with our climate obligations, a position supported by the UK and Scottish governments’ statutory advisers on climate change.
“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest reports show that the impacts of climate change are even worse than previously thought and that business as usual is not an option.
“We are equally clear that the oil and gas sector plays an important role in our economy and that a bright future lies ahead for a revitalised North Sea in supporting a net zero energy system.
“Our oil and gas infrastructure and highly-skilled workforce have long been at the forefront of energy innovation.
“That is why we are committed to a just transition that supports those currently employed in oil and gas to capitalise on the employment opportunities of net zero energy.”