Scotland has the potential to become a world leader in decommissioning obsolete North Sea oil industry infrastructure, it has been claimed.

Energy Minister Fergus Ewing said the practice would be worth at least £30billion by 2040.

The Inverness and Nairn MSP said the Scottish Government wanted oil fields to continue to produce as long as possible, but recognised decommissioning offered an “enormous opportunity” for the country.

He spoke at Holyrood yesterday after being questioned by SNP north-east MSP Maureen Watt. She asked if he agreed the skills Scotland would gain in decommissioning will be similar to the country’s expertise in subsea operations to extract oil from wells.

Mr Ewing said: “Our subsea sector is pre-eminent in the world, which should be the case with decommissioning. We do not wish for the premature cessation of production – we want fields to continue to produce for as long as they can and maximise production.

“However, some installations need to be decommissioned and that is an enormous opportunity for Scotland. There are concerns the UK Government may not be ready to ‘grasp the thistle’, as it were, and ensure we do not lose those advantages.”

He said independence would provide the “most stable environment” to ensure Scotland has the competitive advantage in decommissioning.

The minister was also asked if he was willing to “downplay” the government’s jobs prediction for the offshore windfarm industry.

The challenge was issued by north-east Tory Alex Johnstone who said the government was forced to revise its prediction for onshore windfarm jobs from 18,000 to 11,000.

Mr Ewing said he found it “a bit difficult to understand” the Conservative’s policy on the issue.

“Some members, such as Alex Johnstone and Murdo Fraser, seem to be opposed to windfarms, some are in favour of them and, indeed, some have one of their own,” he added.