Most Scots want the government to avoid a rush to wind down oil and gas production, according to a poll which puts North Sea jobs at the centre of the SNP leadership debate.
The Press & Journal revealed the polling one day after former SNP government minister Ash Regan intervened in the race to replace Nicola Sturgeon by vowing to protect oil and gas jobs.
Ms Regan’s pitch will be viewed with interest in regions such as the north-east where offshore jobs underpin so much of the economy.
Her position is seen as a clear push away from Ms Sturgeon’s platform and could cause fractures with Green party colleagues in government.
Industry body Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) had commissioned the poll after SNP energy secretary Michael Matheson set out proposals in January.
At the time, he said the domestic production will effectively end within 20 years if the government does nothing.
He said a consultation would take views on whether to act faster.
What the poll says on oil and gas
The research by Opinium, based on 1,000 adults, suggests 36% of the public believes the Scottish Government should try to extend production beyond the next 20 years.
A further 23% say the government should do nothing and let production decline as forecast.
The poll also suggests just 5% want to see the Scottish Government act to end North Sea oil and gas production.
David Whitehouse, chief executive of OEUK, said the sector is vital to security.
“This is an excellent vote of confidence in the people in this industry who work hard to produce the energy we need to power and heat our homes and businesses,” he said.
The UK Government is responsible for the main powers over oil and gas.
But the Scottish Government is trying to encourage the sector away from fossil fuels in what it calls a “just transition”.
Opponents of the strategy warn there are still no clear alternatives to replace the industry.
In her pitch to supporters on Monday, Ms Regan stated: “I will not support an accelerated net zero path which sees us turn off the North Sea taps, throw tens of thousands of oil workers out of jobs, hollow out north-east and Highland and island communities whilst still using and importing hydrocarbons.
“I will stand up for our oil workers and their communities.”
The comment appears to be more in tune with Conservative voters in the region.
The poll shows nearly two thirds of those who want the government to extend production beyond the next 20 years plan to vote Tory at the next general election.
Separate polling by Survation last month suggested 76% of people in Scotland think North Sea drilling is preferable to importing oil and gas.
The SNP’s energy strategy underlines the “prosperity” the oil and gas sector has brought to the north-east, hailing the region as a “global centre for the energy industry”.
However, the government stresses that “unlimited extraction of fossil fuels is not consistent” with efforts to decarbonise.