Scotland's offshore oil industry can boom for another 30 years if prices hold close to current levels, a major analysis predicts.

Experts at Aberdeen University reckon another 14.5 billion barrels will be pumped out of the North Sea by 2050 if Brent crude averages at its 2018 level of $70 per barrel.

HeraldScotland: Camley's Cartoon: Boris Johnson on Scotland's new oil boom.Camley's Cartoon: Boris Johnson on Scotland's new oil boom.

However, they also say that production could slump to under nine billion barrels if prices average at just $50 per barrel.

Oil currently sells for $65. Research by Professor Alex Kemp, a veteran North Sea watcher, and Linda Stephen, shows that UK output will be hugely sensitive to world prices – rather than the battle against the climate crisis.

Scientists want to see dramatic reductions in world consumption of fossil fuels and Scotland aims to reach zero net carbon by 2045.

The forecast boom comes as Scotland was told by the Committee on Climate Change it would have to be “bold” to meet its own targets for reducing carbon emissions.

But with Brexit and a second independence referendum on the horizon there is also strong political and economic pressures to squeeze maximum revenue from the fields.

Mr Kemp and his team said investment would depend on prices too. They had three scenarios for crude, at $50, $60 and $70 per barrel. They said: “Development and operating expenditures are also very sensitive to the oil and gas price behaviours. Thus, at the $50 price case total field development expenditure over the period 2019- 2050 is £51.6 billion, while at the $70 price case it is £113bn.”

Environmentalists want the oil to stay under the sea. Again, price determines which fields are developed.

Mr Kemp’s team has counted the number of fields regarded as technical reserves, which pass the “investment hurdle” at different price averages. $50 unlocks just 81 fields for development.

Get to $70 and it is worth the industry’s while to drill in 238 of them. But even at $70 per barrels the North Sea would have deposits too technically difficult to exploit commercially.

Oil and Gas UK Upstream Policy Director Mike Tholen said: “This confirms the new reality of lower oil prices is here to stay and will continue to require innovative thinking to realise fresh opportunities. Although oil prices remain an important factor, the relentless focus on cost and industry collaboration on a range of issues provides a solid framework for investors.

“This is an industry already in action with our blueprint for net zero outlining our commitment to emissions reduction from the operational production of oil and gas while providing the safe, sustainable and competitive energy the UK needs.”

Richard Dixon, director of Friends of the Earth Scotland, said prices should not matter – the planet should.

He said: “The true cost of North Sea oil and gas is too high for our climate. The price per barrel should be measured in the climate-changing emissions it releases and destruction it brings to the most vulnerable people and places on earth.

“Tackling the climate emergency means we must ban oil and gas exploration, and redirect the vast subsidies propping up fossil fuel extraction towards creating decent green jobs in a zero carbon economy.

“All exploration should stop now, no new licences should be issued and current fields should be run down over the next decade as part of a just transition to clean energy jobs.

“If you are in an emergency, the first thing to do is stop making it worse. In this climate emergency the UK and Scottish Government’s continuing support for new exploration in the North Sea is inexcusable. The gung-ho approach will look pretty embarrassing if it is still in place by the time of the UN climate conference in Glasgow next November.”

Mr Kemp, meanwhile, has downgraded the cost of decommissioning because fewer fields are expected to be found and exploited over the next 30 years. Decommissioning costs also depend on price, but not by as much as production, varying from £43.2bn by 2050 at $50 to £47bn at $70. Oil prices fell as low as $28 in 2016.

At the time of the 2014 independence referendum they stood at around $90. A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We are committed to achieving net-zero emissions across the economy as a whole in a way that is fair for all.

“While relevant tax powers are reserved to UK ministers, the Scottish Government’s continued support for oil and gas sector businesses operating in the North Sea is now conditional upon contributing to a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition and we support the industry’s Roadmap 2035 that will decarbonise the remaining production in the North Sea.

“The oil and gas sector can play a positive and important role in Scotland’s energy transition, helping to design the diverse energy system we need for the future, including options such as hydrogen production and developing floating wind and marine energy, with many businesses already diversifying into these areas. The knowledge and experience of the oil and gas sector and its supply chain will also be very important for developing and investing in essential low carbon technologies, such as carbon capture utilisation and storage.”