ONE of the SNP's most senior parliamentarians has called for Scotland to "maximise" North Sea gas production in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and fears over global shortages.

Fergus Ewing, the former Scottish Government Cabinet minister, is being backed by a senior economist who says "there is a case" for several new gas fields off the Scottish coast to be allowed to operate. 

Mr Ewing spoke out amid soaring fuel prices and fears over global shortages following the war in eastern Europe. Oil and gas prices have surged after Russian forces invaded Ukraine.

The SNP MSP, who is the convener of Holyrood's cross party group on oil and gas, said exploiting domestic supplies would reduce Scotland's carbon footprint as he drew attention to the UK's dependence on imported gas.

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He went on to say it was "essential" the oil and gas sector implemented the North Sea transition deal but that the goal required the creation of a new Carbon Capture and Storage facility off the Aberdeenshire coast.

"The Ukrainian crisis, together with reliance on imported gas produced with a far higher footprint together present serious issues for gas supply and prices in the UK These have been pretty obvious for the last six months or so," he said.

"It is vital that in Scotland and the UK we maximise gas production domestically, which will reduce our carbon footprint, but also essential that the industry led North Sea Transition Deal is implemented. Over time, that requires both Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and platform electrification."

Calls have been made for new gas fields to be allowed to operate in the North Sea to reduce reliance on imports in uncertain times.

He added: "A thriving oil and gas sector here is essential for CCS to be developed, by a mature industry to create a new one. Only the oil and gas sector have the know how."

Mr Ewing added: "The UK Government should support ACORN to enable CCS to occur. A combination of these will allow us to reduce our reliance on foreign gas imports with a higher carbon footprint - reducing our emissions, whilst maintaining the oil and gas jobs in Scotland and the UK - with a workforce that is world class."

Just 45 per cent of Scotland and the wider UK's gas supplies comes from the North Sea with just under a half imported from Norway. Some 3.4% comes from Russia and the remainder from global LNG markets, particularly Qatar.

However, with Russia supplying 30 per cent of supplies to western Europe, there are concerns Germany and other EU countries will seek to get more of their supplies from elsewhere.

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Trade body Oil and Gas UK say existing gas fields off Shetland and in the Irish Sea are becoming depleted and predict domestic production will decline 75% by 2030 - making Scotland even more reliant on imports.

Mr Ewing's intervention has been backed by leading economist Professor Alexander Kemp though it may not be welcomed by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon or her Scottish Green ministers.

Energy policy and licensing decisions are reserved, but referring to the SNP/Green deal to share power at Holyrood the Ms Sturgeon underlined that the agreement made clear that "unlimited extraction of fossil fuels, or maximum economic recovery is not consistent with our climate obligations".

Mr Kemp told The Herald the development of new gas fields in the North Sea would reduce Scotland's and the wider UK's reliance on imports in a highly uncertain world environment and reduce the need for imports - which also come with a high carbon cost.

The Professor of Petroleum Economics at Aberdeen University said exploiting the fields would also provide jobs and generate substantial revenue for the Treasury.

"There is a case for allowing more new field development for gas in the North Sea. We have several fields which the operators want to develop but they haven't yet got permission, for example Jackdaw, Glen Dronach and Glen Gorm.

"At the moment, because of the increased need as seen by the UK Government to consider emissions, they are having to produce stronger environment impact assessments and show that they are reducing their emissions, not using, for example, diesel or gas for power generation on the platforms but electrify using renewable sources of electricity," he said.

He said production would take a few years to begin so their gas supplies would not help alleviate the immediate crisis, but they would provide energy security in the longer term.

"There is not nearly enough gas supplies from current domestic fields to meet our needs therefore we will be continuing to import from Norway, Qatar. And to bring gas over long distance - right from Qatar - in huge tankers causes a lot of emissions.

"Giving the go ahead to new fields now wouldn't deal with the immediate problem. However, they would in due course. All the forecasts indicate we are going to be a substantial gas importer from now until 2050 when most of the modelling stops."

Scottish Conservative Shadow Energy, Net Zero and Transport Secretary Liam Kerr: "The awful events unfolding in Ukraine aside, the question of the UK's energy security is of pressing importance. Turning off the taps in the North Sea overnight wouldn't just mean the end of tens of thousands of jobs. It would drastically increase our domestic reliance on imports."

He added: "This fact is totally lost on those in the SNP-Green coalition who are ideologically against the industry. When even their former ministers start talking sense, they need to listen."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "As we set out ahead of COP26 last year, our focus must be on achieving the fastest possible just transition for the oil and gas sector - one that delivers jobs and economic benefit, ensures our energy security and meets our climate obligations.

"The Climate Change Committee’s recent advice on enhanced climate conditionality for North Sea oil and gas production supports our position that any effective and credible checkpoint must extend beyond new licensing rounds to also cover those fields that have already been consented but are not yet in production. However, these remain reserved matters and we continue to call on the UK Government to urgently set out their next steps.

“The North Sea has a critical role to play in our transition to a net zero economy and we are undertaking a programme of work on Scotland’s future energy requirements, ensuring an approach that supports and protects our energy security and our highly skilled workforce, through the Energy Transition Fund, the Green Jobs fund and Scotland’s £500m Just Transition Fund for the North East and Moray."

Scottish Greens energy and climate spokesman Mark Ruskell said:  “Research has shown that relying on gas and abandoning support for renewables has meant the Tories have added £2.5bn to domestic energy bills, plunging households into poverty.

"I’m saddened that Fergus Ewing has shown just how close to the Tories he is with comments like this, in complete denial of the climbing cost of living and of climate science which shows we cannot expand fossil fuel production. 

“Thankfully, Greens in government are doing what we can to reduce the reliance on gas, investing in clean heating systems and insulation while paving the way for a massive expansion in Scotland’s renewable energy capacity. It’s time the UK Government and Mr Ewing caught up.”