Ramping up the production of oil and gas in the North Sea in response to rising prices caused by the invasion of Ukraine would be “impractical”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
The First Minister has faced calls to support increased extraction as the impact of Russian aggression is expected to lead to rising gas prices, compounding the cost of living crisis.
Former Scottish energy secretary Fergus Ewing is among those calling for more oil and gas extraction, telling ITV Border on Wednesday “we need all the oil and gas production we can get for the short and the medium term”.
But Ms Sturgeon said, given no fields in the North Sea are operating under capacity, increasing output could take years and contribute even more to climate change.
“I think it’s important that we understand the realities here,” she said.
“Even if we were to put to one side the environmental considerations, given the timescales and the practicalities involved, it’s not credible to suggest that the short term solution to this crisis lies in increasing North Sea production.”
Responding to a question from Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross, she added: “Existing fields in the North Sea are not currently operating under capacity, expanding existing fields is possible but that would take months if not years and new fields take years if not decades to plan and develop.
“So, we shouldn’t go after solutions that might sound superficially attractive but don’t stand scrutiny around the practicalities and the realities.”
But Mr Ross said: “The First Minister started her answer by saying she and her government would look at all of the issues and all of the options, but refused to say if she agrees with myself and the Scottish Conservatives that we have to maximise oil and gas production in Scotland at the moment to help with the crisis at the moment and the crisis going forward.”
Mr Ross went on to say that a ramping up of Scottish production could reduce the already fairly low reliance of the UK on Russian exports, but also the reliance of other countries.
“Russia’s war has changed the situation and we have to accept that,” he said.
“Scotland could deal a blow to Vladimir Putin by increasing domestic oil and gas production, we could increase that production now.
“We could end the need to import foreign oil and gas and export more to reduce international reliance on Russian energy.
“It is not time to be ideological, it is time to be practical and realistic.”
In response, the First Minster said she had set out “hard, practical reasons” why Mr Ross’ requests would not work to mitigate the impact of rising prices.
He also said that nuclear energy should be considered to be part of Scotland’s energy mix.
To counter the short term impact of price rises on households, the First Minister said, there should be “substantial” financial action taken by the Treasury.
“What we must see in terms of rises in global prices is action from the Chancellor, substantial and significant action from the Chancellor to shield households across the UK from that impact,” she said.
In the long term, the world should move away from oil and gas from Russia – or anywhere else in the world – the First Minister said, to both mitigate price rises and protect the environment.
Deirdre Michie OBE, the CEO of Offshore Energy UK, said there had to be “rapid investment in renewable energy plus investment to sustain the production of oil and gas”.
She added: “This is because production from the North Sea continues to decline, and without fresh investment, we will only increase our reliance on oil and gas imports while we go through the energy transition.
“The UK offshore industry is changing and is already investing in renewable fuel and technology to harness power from wind and hydrogen to help decarbonise energy in the medium to long term.”