IS oil and gas now the treasure that we dare not touch? The Scottish Affairs Committee of Westminster MPs wants to open the chest but be careful about what we let out. Green campaigners want the treasure to remain buried and unused, even for good purposes.

In a new report, the committee backs a £176 million industry-government partnership deal, involving new centres of excellence supporting the creation of £110 billion in North Sea revenues between now and 2035. Any society would be hard-pressed to say no to that. But the committee also wants a “more detailed proposal” on low-carbon measures to stop carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere.

That sounds reasonable enough, but green campaigners are incensed at the vagueness of the demand – more a suggestion, as they see it. Whether it amounts to “political cowardice”, as Friends of the Earth Scotland claim, is another matter. The campaigners want to leave most fossil fuels where they are, as they foster climate change – “an existential crisis for human civilisation”.

An MP’s idea of civilisation is based on realpolitik, and they point out that oil and gas contributed £9.2bn to the Scottish economy in 2017, supporting 135,000 jobs. They also note that one of the three new centres of excellence will focus on developing technology that helps create a lower carbon economy. And they’re putting our money where their mouths are, with government investment of £50m (matched by industry) in this.

That’ll never be enough to satisfy green campaigners, who demand, as it were, the Earth. While MPs see themselves occupying the middle ground between industry and campaigners, the latter claim the high ground.

They see this as a Greek tragedy in which greed is our undoing. They are right to keep pressure on the industry and politicians, and to remind us that these are high stakes. However, they will be hard pressed to stop the treasure being unearthed and exploited.