The North Sea oil sector may need a further reduction in its tax bill if prices remain low, the head of an industry body has said.
The UK Government acted earlier this year to cut the supplementary charge paid by the industry, which has come under pressure as a result of the decline in oil prices.
Deirdre Michie, the chief executive of Oil and Gas UK, said more action could be required if prices fail to rise.
She insisted the sector had “turned a corner”, despite cautioning that the “challenging times we face are set to continue for a while”.
But she stressed: “If the oil price continues to be lower for longer we will need to work with the Treasury to see what other measures may be required, including revising the headline tax rate, which would be consistent with the Government’s fiscal strategy of tax rates falling over time.”
Some 45 billion barrels of oil and gas have been extracted from the North Sea in the last 50 years – enough to fill almost three million Olympic-sized swimming pools, Ms Michie said.
Addressing a fringe event at the SNP conference in Aberdeen, she said extracting “our indigenous oil and gas reaps huge economic and lifestyle benefits for the country and avoids, if you think about it, expensive and less environmentally friendly imports”.
She also said the sector could be “confident the demand for our product and services will continue”, saying oil and gas makes up 70% of the UK’s primary energy need.
Ms Michie accepted the North Sea is facing “difficult times” with operators in the UK continental shelf spending more on operations last year than they earned from production, with this “exacerbated by the sharp and ongoing fall in the oil price”.
She added: “We expect capital expenditure to fall from a record high of £14.7 billion, to fall by about £2 to £3 billion over the next two to three years.
“So there’s therefore real concern about the gap in terms of projects in the pipeline as well as the current lack of exploration.”
She spoke about the “need to overcome the current challenging operating environment”, and added: “We do consider a corner is being turned, the concerted action of companies is beginning to yield results that will help to restore the attractiveness of the basin.
“We completely understand these challenging times we face are set to continue for a while, but the direction of travel we’re on is the right one and we need to stay focused.”