TWO oil experts have said that if predictions about the number of rigs to be scrapped over the next decade are correct, it would signal the death of the industry in the North Sea with the loss of “hundreds of thousands” of jobs.

A report from energy consultancy Douglas-Westwood predicted that up to 150 platforms could be decommissioned between 2019 and 2026. However, Alex Russell and Peter Strachan, professors at Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University, told The National there would be “no way back”.

They said: “This would effectively sound the death knell for the North Sea oil industry. There would be no way back. It would mean that half of the number of platforms in the UK sector of the North Sea that are to be removed by 2050 would have been scrapped within the next 10 years.

“Why this haste to say goodbye to the industry that has been the engine of the real UK economy for the past 50 years by pumping over £300 billion direct taxation into the Exchequer’s coffers?”

They said it was a short-term approach that had “characterised UK exploitation of North Sea assets” and it contrasted vividly with Norway’s approach to developing resources.

“Norway will not be rushing to decommission half its North Sea platforms and its industry will be around 70 years from now,” they said, adding that it could be the result of “the Chancellor’s reckless decision” to have UK taxpayers pay half the £50bn estimated cost of future decommissioning expenditure.

“Perhaps there is logic behind oil companies grabbing the generous offer from the Chancellor before everyone has second thoughts on the matter of giving away public money to wealthy companies,” they said.

“A rush to decommission now is a disaster as it signals future as well as present intentions and the contagion effect throughout the industry to decommission quickly will spread as swiftly as a Gulf of Mexico oil spill.”

Russell and Strachan said the measure was at odds with maximising economic return from the North Sea.

“The jobs created through involvement in decommissioning will not compensate for the early demise of the North Sea oil industry with its consequent loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs.

“There are still 22 billion or so barrels of economically recoverable oil in the North Sea.

“Wherever and whatever, pressure should be put on oil companies to maintain platforms unless it is absolutely clear they are no longer viable.

“Neither the UK nor the Scottish governments should acquiesce in ruining the economic prospects of the north-east of Scotland for future generations.”

Douglas-Westwood said the collapse of the oil price had been bad news for nearly every company in the industry, but specialist decommissioning companies could actually benefit from it.

“For these companies there is an opportunity to be part of removing the huge tonnage of infrastructure that exists in the North Sea. With oil prices forecast to remain low, life extension work that has kept many North Sea platforms producing long past their design life no longer makes commercial sense,” said the company.

The Scottish Greens backed that view. Co-convener Patrick Harvie said we had no time to waste if we wanted our workers and economy to benefit from decommissioning.

He said: “Whether our governments like it or not, the future of North Sea oil is more uncertain than ever, and thousands of people will lose their livelihoods unless we secure work in areas like decommissioning and renewables.

“Governments both in Westminster and here in Scotland like to pretend that by throwing subsidies into the North Sea, we can make the oil industry last forever.

“But while they sit around and hope for the best, valuable opportunities to take a leading position in the decommissioning sector are floating by.”