Shetland is ideally placed to capitalise on the potential still being realised from North Sea oil and gas reserves.
But work needs to be done to redress the “massive” skills shortage being felt in the industry.
That was the message from the Scottish government’s energy minister Fergus Ewing during a visit to the isles today.
He reiterated the SNP’s long-held claims that oil and gas reserves are strong enough, possibly for another 40 years.
Mr Ewing said young people needed to be encouraged to work in the industry, which – he said – could remain strong long enough to see them through their whole working lives.
He criticised successive Westminster governments for spreading “false propaganda” that the oil and gas industry was on its last legs.
The minister’s comments came after meetings with senior councillors and officials, where skills development in the energy sector came under the spotlight.
He also visited the Ocean Kinetics premises in Lerwick. Last year the company’s owner, John Henderson, called for a new dedicated training facility which could lead to newly-qualified welders and fabricators gaining apprenticeships and working in the isles.
“The main focus was, perhaps, on skills and how we make sure people on these islands have the opportunity to benefit in oil and gas and, certainly, how young people can have a whole career in oil and gas,” said Mr Ewing.
“It’s contrary to what our friends in London have been telling us for decades. It’s not running out, and Shetland is – in many ways – at the epicentre of the opportunities west of Shetland and in the North Sea. It’s not running out, so young people have the opportunity of a whole career.”
Mr Ewing said industry needed to do more to provide skills needed, he said, for 30 to 40 years’ worth of work.
He highlighted work in the Clair Field, Kraken, Statoil’s Mariner and Bentley [owned by Xcite Energy Resources] as examples of projects for the future “that have already been announced”, together with other North Sea fields that, he said, were having their lives extended.
“I think a generation of young people have been deterred from going into the industry because of false propaganda from some of the Westminster parties that the industry was dead, or dying. Wrong. It is not dead or dying. It has another, possibly, half century.”
Mr Ewing said skills developed in Scotland were being deployed across the globe.
On renewables, he said a meeting was due to be held this month with UK Energy Secretary Ed Davey to discuss the case for grid connections to the islands.
The Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) recently announced additional support for Scottish island wind power generation – £115/MWh, compared to £90/MWh on the mainland.
“We think that the strike price of £115/MWh for offshore island wind energy is a welcome step because it, in principal, recognises there is a need for a special measure for islands.
“However, we don’t think it goes far enough in that the CfD
[Contract for Difference – another term for strike prices] needs to be extended beyond 2019.
“The mechanism is effectively time-limited, and it will expire before connections may come on stream.”
Speaking after the visit Mr Henderson said a pilot scheme had run in Scalloway during the summer months for apprentices and other workers seeking to retrain.
He hoped a further initiative would take off, with help from HIE, NAFC and Train Shetland.
“There is a Nigg training academy down near Inverness, which basically is advanced welding training. We feel there was a need for that kind of training in Shetland,” he said.