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Oil and gas may last just 17 years

The UK could exhaust its oil and gas reserves in just 17 years if production continues at its current rate, according to new figures.

Oil & Gas UK's 2011 economic report revealed there could be as little as 14 billion barrels of oil and gas left off the UK continental shelf.

Around 810 million barrels were extracted last year, 2.2 million barrels a day, meaning reserves could hypothetically be exhausted in 17 years.

The most optimistic estimate puts reserves at 24 billion barrels, which would last around 30 years at the present rate of production. However, the report states that these reserves would require "radical" new technical and commercial innovations to extract.

Production was down 6.5% last year compared with 2009, and could slow to around half a million barrels a day by 2021.

Oil & Gas UK chief executive Malcolm Webb said the industry has the potential to continue to provide jobs, tax revenues and support for the balance of trade and energy supplies for several decades to come.

He added: "We believe that up to 24 billion boe (barrels of oil and gas equivalent) remain to be produced here. The forecasts prepared at the start of 2011 showed that investment to develop these was set to increase dramatically to £8 billion this year and be sustained at that rate for the next five years. Our calculations show that if the investment planned then were realised, over 40% of our primary energy demand (or 60% of oil and gas demand) could still be satisfied from these resources in 2020."

Some 40 billion barrels of oil have already been extracted from UK waters, amounting to between 62% and 74% of the UK's total reserves based on the current estimates.

However, SNP Westminster energy spokesman Mike Weir said there is still as much oil left off UK shores as has already been extracted.

Mr Weir said: "The oil and gas industry continues to be a vital part of our economy and clearly there continues to be a long-term future for the industry, with as much oil left around our shores as has already been extracted. Unfortunately, the present UK Government has seen fit to damage the prospects of the present industry by sudden tax changes and the future industry by its watering down of attempts to create a greener economy."