The UK can benefit from the potential of natural resources of the Moray Firth while protecting its wildlife, an oil and gas representative body has said.
The firth provides a habitat for bottlenose dolphins
Oil & Gas UK was responding to concerns for the firth's bottlenose dolphins amid the possibility of oil and gas exploration in a protected area.
Green MSP Robin Harper raised the matter in the Scottish Parliament.
Oil & Gas UK's operations director, Paul Dymond, said the sector was governed by strict regulations.
He said: "I would contend that, if we are responsible, as we are, and we have a strong regulator, which we do, then there is no reason why this nation can't benefit from both from its natural resources and its wildlife heritage.
"The UK oil and gas industry works in the marine environment with a range of other users so it is appropriate that it works out the right way to pursue its activities in a sensible manner which takes its impact on the environment into account."
Mr Dymond said before a block - an area of seabed to be explored for oil and gas reserves - is offered in a licensing round a series of detailed assessments must be carried out.
Environmental impact studies must also be done before any drilling and development begins.
The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has raised concerns about exploration in the Moray Firth and its impact on marine life.
It is carrying out a survey of its bottlenose dolphins, whales and porpoises.
In the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, Environment Minister Mike Russell said a balance would have to be struck between the interests of the economy and protecting the natural environment.
He said: "The right way to take that forward is to listen to the bodies charged with that and then to come to our conclusions."
The UK Government said any application would be subjected to detailed scrutiny.