MPs have launched an inquiry into the state of the North Sea oil and gas industry in an attempt to underline the continuing need for government support.
The decision to launch the investigation was taken at the first meeting of the new energy and climate change committee, set up to shadow the energy and climate change department created by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in his last cabinet reshuffle.
The decision to put the offshore industry at the top of a list of proposed inquiries was taken at the suggestion of Angus SNP MP Mike Weir and strongly supported by West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine Liberal Democrat MP Sir Robert Smith.
It comes amid concern the credit crunch is hitting smaller exploration and development companies dependent on raising their finance in the money markets.
UK Oil and Gas communications director Trisha O’Reilly welcomed the decision to place the industry high on the committee’s agenda from day one.
She said the oil operators’ organisation would “certainly be prepared to give evidence” if asked. She added that she believed the committee would potentially provide an opportunity “to re-emphasise the importance of maximising recovery of our indigenous reserves”.
Mr Weir said committee members agreed the North Sea was “of vital importance”. He envisaged the inquiry would look at what is happening offshore and particularly at what needs to be done to encourage the exploitation of gas finds west of Shetland.
He said: “It is recognition that the North Sea will play a crucial role in meeting our energy needs for the foreseeable future.”
Sir Robert, who has appealed to the government already to do more to support developments west of Shetland, said: “The fact we have chosen this as our first inquiry shows how important this industry is to the UK.”
He said he believed key players among large and small offshore operators would be called to contribute their views.
The committee will question Energy Secretary Ed Miliband next month and call in the UK’s leading energy companies for a single day’s hearing on the outlook for energy prices this year and future investment in electricity generating capacity.