Prime Minister David Cameron has hailed the North Sea oil and gas industry as the “real jewel in the crown” of Britain’s economy.
The Conservative leader praised a wave of new offshore investment and projects as “encouraging” at Prime Minister’s Questions today.
But Cameron sounded a note of caution for the industry ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, warning that North Sea safety and security remained “absolutely paramount”.
The comments in the Commons came in response to a question from north-east MP Sir Malcolm Bruce.
The Liberal Democrat member for Gordon recalled the deaths of the 167 men in July 1988 as he sought fresh assurances from Mr Cameron over North Sea safety.
Sir Malcolm asked: “As we approach the 25th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, will the prime minister join with me in recognising the challenges we face in continuing to bring oil and gas ashore from the North Sea, the skills and dedication of those who do it, and the paramount importance of safety in ensuring that we can continue to exploit the resources?”
The Prime Minister responded: “I will certainly join my honourable friend in praising the North Sea oil and gas industry.
“It is a real jewel in the crown of the United Kingdom economy.
“I think what is encouraging is that this year we are seeing a growth in production as a number of new fields and projects come on stream.
“But he is absolutely right to say that at all times safety and security are absolutely paramount.”
An estimated £11.4billion was invested in the North Sea in 2012, with the figure due to rise to £13billion this year.
A series of events are being planned over coming weeks to remember Piper Alpha.
Speaking after the debate, Sir Malcolm said: “Over the next few weeks as we approach the 25th Anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, it is right that we take the time to reflect on those 167 men who lost their lives, including two of the rescue crew.
“We also need to consider and review what developments there have been in health and safety since then and what more can and should be done to ensure that the safety of offshore workers remains paramount at all times.”