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Ewing: Too Early to Judge Total's Role in Elgin

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HOUSTON - It's too soon yet to assess Total S.A.'s role in the Elgin leak in the North Sea, Scotland's energy minister said Monday.

"It'd be somewhat premature to rush to judgment," Fergus Ewing, Scotland's minister for energy, enterprise and tourism, told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview, adding that enough evidence must be gathered first and that the priority is to address the gas leak that led to the evacuation of the platform in late March.

The official said that current regulation overseeing offshore oil and gas in the U.K.'s North Sea "is strong," and that oil companies are vigilant in following the rules, but "there's no place for complacency."

The North Sea off Scotland was one of the first major offshore regions to be developed. Ewing said that an independent Scotland would fare "extremely well" thanks to the oil and gas reserves discovered there, which could play a big role for the next four or five decades.

Ewing said an independent Scotland could offer oil and gas companies a more stable and welcoming fiscal regime than the U.K., which has raised taxes on oil production several times in recent years. "We want an independent Scotland to offer the best conditions in the world" for the oil and gas industry, he said.

That would include a fiscal regime based on the Dutch model in which the government would engage in talks with the industry prior to fiscal changes, Ewing said. "We won't be delivering these bombshells," he said.

Copyright (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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