Energy firms could bear the brunt of a £15 million bill if new marine nature reserves are created off the west and north-east coasts, it has emerged.
The Scottish Government is consulting on plans to create four new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – three off the Hebrides and another at the “Southern Trench” off the north-east.
The move has been widely welcomed and described as vital to the protection of species and habitats, including basking sharks, minke whales, Risso’s dolphins, burrowed mud, shelf banks and mounds and shelf deeps.
But while no firm proposals for managing the MPAs have yet been agreed, the potential costs to industry have been analysed in a new appraisal by Marine Scotland.
The energy sector could face rising costs, potentially worth up to £554,000 in the case of the pioneering Acorn CCS scheme at the St Fergus gas plant near Peterhead.
The bill relates to potential restrictions to winter-only surveys of a key pipeline required for the project, which runs through the Southern Trench MPA.
These would be harder to carry out in bad weather.
The same issue of seasonal restrictions for surveys of pipeline infrastructure could affect the oil and gas industry, which faces no rise in costs under some scenarios, but up to £7.5m over two decades in the worst case.
Louise O’Hara Murray, environment manager for industry body Oil and Gas UK, said the sector supported MPAs and that several already overlap with existing offshore infrastructure.
A Scottish Government spokesman said the proposals for four new MPAs were currently out for consultation and it was “happy to engage with anyone who believes they have a contribution to make”.