It would be “detrimental, environmentally” to stop drilling for new oil and gas in the North Sea, says oil tycoon Sir Ian Wood.

It’s one of those statements that makes you feel slightly queasy, distorting the world as you see it, like looking through someone else’s specs. Exploiting new oil reserves better for the environment than leaving them in the ground? Has Sir Ian been imbibing too many petrol fumes?

Not to be outdone, Alex Salmond has waded in, mainly to have a dig at Nicola Sturgeon over her deal with the Greens, it seems, but also to declare that it’s “perfectly possible” to reconcile hydrocarbon development with a zero carbon future.

Gosh, is it true? Have we all been getting in a big fankle about nothing? Possibly – but then again, possibly not. Sir Ian and Mr Salmond are markedly at odds with the International Energy Authority, the industry-friendly international watchdog, which has stated that no new oil fields must be developed if net zero is to be achieved by mid-century.

They’re also at odds with many other countries, including Denmark, France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and New Zealand, which have all ended the issuing of new licences, and indeed even the United States, where oil supports barrel-loads of jobs. The US government has imposed a moratorium on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters, and is reviewing existing permits.

But could it be that all these experts and other democracies have missed the point and only plucky wee oil billionaire Sir Ian and Russia Today presenter Mr Salmond can see how unnecessary it is to end new oil drilling?

Or could it be that these two figures from the past are still projecting the thinking of the past, and are motivated, not entirely by concern for the environment, but by other considerations?

Sir Ian, who authored a report for David Cameron on how to maximise offshore oil and gas extraction (just saying), puts the argument thus. He says that the UK should continue developing new oil and gas fields – in fact that it would be “absolutely crazy” not to – because if we don’t we’ll have to import more, and from countries with less strict environmental regulations, which will cause emissions to rise.

There’s a logic to that, on its own. Poorly managed oil and gas extraction is linked to higher methane emissions. We surely want to avoid being forced into importing more oil and gas.

But it all gets rather less convincing once you dig into it. We are of course already net importers of oil and gas, but the logic of Sir Ian’s argument seems to be that we can at least provide for some of our energy needs with the stuff we extract ourselves and so should continue to do so until our energy demand comes down. To quote him: “If we don't have our own oil and gas we'll have to import it because we just don't have any other resources.”

Only, we don’t actually use much of the crude oil we produce at the moment: we export it.

Even if you allow that a small proportion of British-produced oil is used here, what about that domestic demand? It’s dropping. The UK’s use of carbon-based fuels has dropped by nearly a quarter in the last three decades. With climate mitigation efforts accelerating as we race to decarbonise the economy, demand will plummet. Fossil fuel-powered vehicles and heating systems are being phased out; emissions related to farming are also due to be slashed.

All this means that by 2045, UK demand for fossil fuels is set to be a fraction of what it is today. But new licences typically last for 25 or 30 years. Issued now, that would mean up to and beyond 2045. Surely the last thing we need is to be granting licences now for oil to be drilled decades in the future when we no longer need it. That would be barmy, wouldn’t it?

What about Mr Salmond’s remarks? Well, they are part of an apparent attempt to woo long-standing SNP supporters, for whom the phrase “it’s Scotland’s oil” is part of the catechism.

It’s highly misleading to suggest that developing new oil fields is in harmony with Britain’s net zero ambitions.

What to do about North Sea oil and gas is nevertheless devilishly tricky for the Scottish and UK governments. Opposition has been growing to drilling in a vast new oil field, Cambo, west of Shetland, which contains over 800m barrels.

The Scottish Government’s established position is to extract as much oil as possible from the North Sea, but Nicola Sturgeon knows that this isn’t sustainable. With COP26 approaching, she wants to prove she’s greener than David Attenborough in a rainforest, but is also shying away from demanding that new projects don't go ahead.

The ultimate decision on whether Cambo goes ahead rests with the UK government and Ms Sturgeon has belatedly written to Boris Johnson urging him to review it, and saying she wants “significantly enhanced climate conditionality” attached to it, but has lost her nerve over opposing Cambo outright.

And that’s because there is so much at stake. The sickening fear in Aberdeen is that the fate that befell former central belt industrial towns in the 1980s, will be theirs.

The oil was always going to run out: we knew that in the 1980s when I was growing up there. The demands of climate mitigation are not the cause of the decline but an exacerbating factor.

Still, unless tangible progress is made to bring about the much-discussed “just transition”, continuing to extract ever more oil will seem to many people like the lesser of two evils.

Investment is needed in the new industries and the infrastructure to support them. Retraining must be made easier and more affordable, to help former oil workers find employment in renewables, decommissioning and carbon capture.

If a convincing plan were in place, then we wouldn’t need to fear the winding down of North Sea oil. We could set an end date for oil extraction, as other countries have done.

And that would put an end to the misleading and perilous suggestion that it’s OK to keep pumping oil.

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