NORTH Sea oil and gas production will cease within a decade, academics have warned.

New research has revealed that just 11 per cent of the UK’s oil reserves, equivalent to 3.3 billion barrels, has still to be recovered and it will run out by 2027.

The Edinburgh University study warns the UK will soon have to import all the oil and gas it requires and will leave the country facing an unprecedented energy crisis. 

Scientists examined the nation’s likely potential for shale gas fracking and carried out a fresh survey of the country’s oil and gas production.

It found that fracking will be “barely” viable in the UK, especially in Scotland, because of a lack of sites with suitable geology.

They explained that many possible sites are in densely populated areas, have “low quality source rocks” and “complex geological histories”.

The findings take into account the long-term downward trends of oil and gas field size and lifespan, alongside the break-even costs for fracking.
Around 43 billion barrels have so far been extracted from the North Sea while investment in the sector reached a record high last year of more than £14 billion.

Industry estimates suggest there are up to 24 billion barrels remaining.

But using an economic test known as the Hubbert curve which measures the production rate of a resource over time, the Edinburgh University research suggests these estimates are overly optimistic.

Using the curve, which was devised in 1956 by geologist M. King Hubbert and accurately predicted that US oil production would peak in 1970, Professor Roy Thompson, of the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences, believes just nine per cent of gas and 11 per cent of oil is recoverable.

His calculation shows that UK oil production has nearly reached the end of the Hubbert curve and will run out within ten years.

Researchers are now calling for a move towards greater use of renewable energy sources, including offshore wind and advanced solar energy.

Professor Thompson 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.”

However, some experts have questioned the validity of the research.

Professor Alexander Kemp, professor of Petroleum Economics and Director of Aberdeen Centre for Research in Energy Economics, refuted the findings insisting that even at the current low oil price there were still around 11 billion barrels left “which can be recovered profitably”.

He added: “A further 7 billion can be recovered if oil prices go up and there are big fields such as Bressay and Rosebank off Shetland which can be developed and it certainly will be still going on to 2050.”

Industry body Oil and Gas UK said “there are up to 20 billion barrels of oil and gas resources still to be recovered on the UK Continental Shelf”.

It also predicted that “some notably large developments will still be producing towards 2050.”

But Scottish Conservative energy spokesman Alexander Burnett 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, and assist those who’ve suffered as a result of the downturn.”

Scottish Labour’s economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “This is a worrying report about our oil and gas sector.

“It would be deeply regrettable if the predictions in this report come to fruition and we see oil and gas reserves only last another decade.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The future for renewable energy is bright in Scotland and we have a record on growing the sector of which we are proud.

“Scotland’s offshore oil and gas industry also has a bright future, and, with the right regulatory and fiscal environment, the basin has up to 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent remaining, and this year has seen one of the biggest new discoveries of untapped oil in recent times.”