Centrica signs oil and gas deal with Conoco

Centrica has accelerated its push into oil and gas production by striking a $223m (£142m) deal with ConocoPhillips that will nearly double its interest in a key North Sea field.

The British Gas owner is buying a 15.17 per cent stake in the Statfjord field, which straddles the UK and Norwegian North Sea, taking its share of the project to 34.3 per cent.

The deal propels Centrica towards its goal of increasing production by 50 per cent in the next five years to 75 million barrels of oil equivalent a year, as the group seeks to tap the enormous profits on offer as wholesale prices soar.

It comes after Centrica paid Statoil £1bn in November for stakes in eight oil and gas developments on the Norwegian continental shelf.

Centrica is keen to step up the so-called upstream part of its business, which explores for and extracts oil and gas, as an exodus from nuclear power after Japan's Fukishima disaster, rising global demand for energy and uncertainty in the Middle East have sent wholesale prices soaring.

Mark Hanafin, managing director of Centrica Energy, said: "Increasing our stake in Statfjord marks the latest stage in our drive to secure high-quality sources of gas."