On 22nd July, David Cameron became the first serving Prime Minister to visit the island of Shetland in 34 years. The official line on the purpose of the visit is that he was there to make a small policy announcement relating to a household energy deal, while visual evidence supplied through his own Twitter account shows that he also took the opportunity to engage with one of the island’s famous Shetland Ponies.
At the time, the visit went largely unnoticed, but in the weeks it has taken on a whole new dimension, as part of a secretive plot between Westminster and BP to cover up a discovery off the coast of the island that could drastically shift the economic debate in the Scottish Independence referendum in favour of the Yes campaign. In this alternative explanation, the policy announcement and Pony pic were merely to provide cover for him, a politician with no formal geological training or oil exploration expertise, to assess the big find.
Covering up the spoils of Scottish oil
Despite the recent peak of interest in the Clair Field, which is 27.6 per cent owned by BP, 24% owned by ConnocoPhillips UK and 19.4% owned by Chevron North Sea, oil was actually first discovered back in 1977 with the first development phase commencing in 2001 as a single fixed platform.
The theory that a new discovery in the area had been made emerged after Cameron’s visit was threaded to an announcement from BP that it was to delay the start-up of the Clair Field for a year. While BP announced the reason as being due to amount of work required by the South Korean fabricator on the project, a pro-independence site called Yes 2104 published a story claiming that it was because they had just discovered that the field would provide far more than the publicly disclosed estimate of 640 million barrels of oil.
Oil and gas companies operating in the North Sea contributed £6.5bn in corporate taxes in 2012-13.
An excerpt from the article read: “A few days ago we were made aware that contractors working for BP were stood down after obtaining the results of the latest test drilling statistics. While the source refused to name the actual test drilling rig, other sources of information point to it being in the Clair field. It was said that the test results “far exceeded expectations”.
At a press conference earlier this week, BP chief executive Bob Dudley, spoke positively of developments at the Clair field. He said: “We remain very enthusiastic about Clair Ridge- appraisal wells are looking good. It is helping us to define the structure out there.”
However, there has been strong speculation by pro-independence advocates and websites that Dudley, who at the same press conference suggested that the estimates of North Sea oil put forward by the Yes campaign were questionable, was underplaying the potential of the Clair field, with a recent poll by entertainment site Buzzfeed suggesting that 42% of Scots believed that a cover up had taken place.
With North Sea revenues highlighted as a central pillar of an Independent Scotland’s economic future, there has been significant debate between the two campaigns over how much it holds. Interestingly, even while Scotland remains a member of the United Kingdom, a large portion of the money associated with the project is spent outside of it, most notably with the Clair Ridge project being headquarted in London. In addition, the platform jackets, the largest of which has been named after the Norse god Odin, for the project have been constructed by Norwegian company Kvaermer while the topsides are being made by Hyundai Heavy Industries in Korea.
Is it all ‘utter nonsense’?
Adding extra verve to suspicions that the government have been meddling in Scotland’s oil affairs , it has been revealed that the Ministry of Defence overrode oil exploration activity in the Clyde in the 1980’s over fears that it would interfere with the movement of nuclear submarines travelling to and from Faslane.
Following the publication of documents that appeared to show that the MOD interfered, defence secretary at the time Michael Hesseltine confirmed that defence interests would have taken priority over the economic benefits provided by oil extraction from the Clyde.
On the Clyde, BP, which held exploration rights for the area, explained that it released its rights as its exploration activity didn’t turn up anything.
Asked to comment directly on the theory that it is covering up a big find at Clair Ridge, a spokesman for the company said: “It’s utter nonsense.”
Clair Field – the facts
- Discovered in 1977 and extends over an area of 220km2
- Approximate depth: 140m
- The first development phase (Clair Phase 1) was sanctioned in 2001
- Production commenced in February 2005 and the field has so far produced around 90 million barrels.
- All engineering, all project management and a large share of the topsides equipment spending is in the UK, amounting to 30% of the £2.1bn base cost
- Around 80% of the estimated £1.1bn of drilling costs will be spent in the UK
- Invested parties: BP Exploration Operating Co (27.6%), Britoil (0.98%), ConocoPhillips (24%), Chevron North Sea (19.4%), Enterprise Oil (18.7%), Shell Clair UK (9.3%).