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Scottish Independence Debate / Cameron conspiracy rumours dispelled

One of the first photos of David Cameron in Shetland taken shortly after his arrival at Sumburgh airport in the afternoon of 22 July. With him is Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish secretary and local MP - Photo: Ronnie Robertson

RUMOURS that David Cameron became the first prime minister in 34 years to visit Shetland last month because of a massive new oil find to the west of the isles have been branded as “ridiculous”.

Pro-independence website Yes International said on Friday that Cameron’s visit was shrouded in secrecy and linked this to an unnamed source reportedly saying that test drilling in BP’s Clair Ridge project (phase three) had “far exceeded expectations”.

BP further fuelled the story inadvertently by refusing to comment on individual test results.

Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael who had accompanied the Prime Minister during his 24-hour visit on 22 and 23 July, said the story showed how “desperate” the campaign for Scottish independence has become.

“These rumours are quite ridiculous. If there was any truth in this suggestion that there has been a massive oil discovery and that it was being kept secret, then surely the last thing the Prime Minister would do would be visiting where you could only draw attention to it.

“It shows however the increasingly shrill thinking of some Yes campaigners desperate to see conspiracies where none exists.

“Increasingly they seem to be talking to each other and seem to be giving up talking to the voters,” the northern isles LibDem MP said.

The 21,000 tonne Clair Ridge drilling and production jacket was deployed in 140 metres of water in August of last year - Photo: BP

A spokeswoman for BP in Aberdeen said the company has had no involvement in the Prime Minister’s recent visit.

She added that in order to meet oil executives David Cameron would have visited the company’s offices in either Aberdeen or London rather then being flown to Shetland.

And a spokeswoman for French energy giant Total dispelled rumours that the Prime Minister had originally been booked to cut the ribbon at the opening of the £800 million Shetland Gas Plant, which is many months behind schedule.

Rhonda Miller said any official opening would only take place six to nine months after becoming operational to ensure that any teething problem have been dealt with.

It is however no secret that Shetland is booming thanks to the massive surge in oil and gas exploration activities to the west of the isles.

Some of the projects under way are:

  • BP is in the process of investing £4.5 billion to unlock around 640 million barrels of oil from the giant Clair oil field (Clair Ridge phase two), which was discovered back in 1977 and is said to hold reserves of seven or eight billion barrels.
    Oil is scheduled to start flowing to the Sullom Voe Terminal in late 2016. Peak production is expected to be in the region of 120,000 barrels per day, although some say it could be more.
  • BP and its partners are also in the middle of a two-year appraisal programme for Clair Ridge phase three which involves drilling a number of appraisal wells.
  • Total is investing well above £3 billion into the Laggan-Tormore project to tap into the huge gas reserves out west. Part of the project is the construction of the Shetland Gas Plant, which currently employs 3,000 workers.
    Laggan-Tormore is now due to come on stream in 2015, and there are plans in place to also develop the nearby Edradour and Glenlivit gas fields.
  • BP is also redeveloping the Schiehallion oil field at a cost of around £3 billion by upgrading sub-sea infrastructure and replacing the floating, production, storage and offloading vessel with a new 270metre FSPO. The field is due to come back on stream in 2016.
  • American oil company Chevron is meanwhile said to make an investment decision to develop the Rosebank reservoir in 2015. This could be in the region of £6 billion.
    The company plans to link into existing pipeline infrastructure, but there is also talk about Chevron looking at building its own infrastructure in Shetland.
  • Meanwhile, BP received planning permission to build a £500 million gas sweetening plant at the Sullom Voe Terminal. This investment is in addition to a £250 million refurbishment of the 35 year old terminal to serve the West of Shetland oil and gas developments.
  • Hurricane Energy is looking to develop its light oil Lancaster and Whirlwind reservoirs, discovered in 2009 and 2011 near the established Schiehallion and Foinaven fields.
  • Premier Oil is currently investing £830 million to bring its Solan field on stream before the end of the year. Daily production is expected to be in the region of 20,000 barrels.