By Martin Kelly
A potential oil boom off the west coast of Scotland was blocked by the Ministry of Defence because of the close proximity to the Faslane Nuclear base, a former Labour MP has said.
According to the Sunday Post, Whitehall officials pulled the plug on further exploration work near the Firth of Clyde after BP discovered oil south of Arran in the 1980s.
Exploratory work had discovered oil and further work was planned. But this was blocked by defence officials based in London who were concerned that it would interfere with nuclear submarine excercises carried out in the area.
Speaking to the Sunday Post, former Labour MP David Lambie - the local MP between 1970 and 1992 - revealed that he had been told by a Conservative MP that the close proximity of the Faslane Naval base was the reason work had been stopped.
"One of the Tory MPs I was friendly with at the time told me privately that there was oil there but any further exploration was being blocked by the MoD.
"Because it was a part of the sea they used for excercises and training, the Navy told them [BP] to walk away from the application.
"I was furious – if the people in my constituency had the choice between naval excercises and oil jobs I know which one they would choose.
He added: "I am absolutely convinced there is oil down there."
The newspaper revealed that neither BP nor the MoD has any records from the survey work carried out in the Firth of Clyde. The newspaper said that a request to the MoD for all information it held on oil exploratory work "drew a blank", a MoD spokesman saying it was likely that any information had been destroyed.
One of the men who worked on the project told the newspaper: "We were told there was oil and the exploration work lasted some time, but I don’t know what happened beyond that."
Local SNP councillor Ian Douglas said he himself spoke to the exploration crew in the mid-eighties, and said:
"We were told they were mapping the sea-bed and that the results were hush-hush, but that Scotland would be a wealthy place sooner rather than later after the oil started to flow."
Professor Alex Kemp of Aberdeen University said he would be "surprised" if there was oil there, but added; "I wouldn’t be surprised if the MoD objected as that has been quite common in the history of the North Sea."
SNP MSP for the South of Scotland Chic Brodie said:
"Given the revelation by former chancellor Denis Healey that the UK government underplayed the value of oil in the 1970s, we have to be deeply sceptical that the UK government is telling us everything they know when it comes to oil in the Firth of Clyde.
"We know for a fact that the MoD was consulted on the exploration and now we have the local MP at the time saying they had any further exploration halted.
"The people of Scotland deserve answers from the UK government on what is exactly down there. It is odd to say in the least that no records exist anymore."
Speaking to Holyrood magazine in May, former Labour Chancellor Denis Healey admitted that Labour deliberately hid the true extent of Scotland’s oil wealth in the late 70s in order to thwart support for the SNP.
"I think we did underplay the value of the oil to the country because of the threat of nationalism ..."
The former Labour Minister also said that the current UK government is "worried stiff" that Scots might vote Yes in the 2014 referendum which will mean Westminster losing billions in tax receipts from Scottish oil.
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