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5 June 2014, 05:00
More oil firms think Scottish independence will be positive for the industry than those that think it will be negative, according to a survey.
Most firms say independence would make little difference (38%) while a large number say it is too difficult to predict at the moment (32%), a survey of 700 oil and gas firms by Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce found.
But independence was the preferred option of those who expressed an opinion either way, with 18% saying it would be positive against 12% who said it would be negative.
Firms with fewer than 200 employees were most likely to say a vote in favour would be a positive development for the sector.
This uncertainty while Scotland decides is causing "more angst'' than the outcome of the vote, according to law firm Bond Dickinson, who sponsored the survey.
A rising number of firms say the pre-referendum uncertainty is affecting their investment decisions, up from 38% to 45% in the last year.
This outcome is "absolutely expected'', according to Bond Dickinson partner Uisdean Vass, who said "foreign-owned businesses rarely agitate for constitutional change''.
But change is on the way regardless of the outcome of the referendum following a review of the industry by Sir Ian Wood, according to Mr Vass.
He said: "In just a few months Scotland will vote in the independence referendum. Whatever the result, change is inevitable.
"Sir Ian Wood's review on maximising UKCS (United Kingdom Continental Shelf) recovery, issued in February, has the potential to profoundly change the existing system of UKCS licensing.''
The proposed independent government regulator and obligation to collaborate and share infrastructure to maximise recovery "would lead to a significant change in the way the UKCS operates'', according to half of respondents.
Mr Vass added: "The survey's findings on the referendum are absolutely what we would have expected.
"Naturally enough, businesses, especially foreign-owned businesses, rarely agitate for constitutional change.
"As it turns out, less than half of the firms which responded said the referendum was having an impact on plans and investment. Most of these, it is true, said that the referendum was seen negatively.
"However, when asked what they thought about the impact of a Yes vote, the majority expressed no opinion. Of the minority who did express an opinion, a slight majority were favourable.
"While we find lots of interest in the referendum in the North-east oil and gas community, we do not find great concern about the result.''
Robert Collier, chief executive at Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce, said: "The UK oil and gas sector faces a challenging time but the industry is responding well, with many increasing investment spend in the UKCS and overseas.
"North-east Scotland is pivotal to the Scottish and UK economy and it is vital that the oil and gas industries here are supported so they can maintain their impressive growth record.
"The effective implementation of the Wood review would be a positive step in the right direction.
"The shortage of skilled labour and loss of staff to competitors is a key challenge to the sector and it is encouraging that so many companies are increasing their investment in staff training, as well as developing new markets and research and development.''