Interest in North Sea exploration booms

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The Independent Online

As BP struggles in the ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, interest is booming closer to home with an unprecedented response to the latest North Sea licensing round.

A record 356 exploration licences were granted in the most recent round, the Energy minister, Charles Hendry, revealed yesterday, along with the official approval for Apache’s development of the 18-million barrel Bacchus field in the central North Sea. Mr Hendry said: “The North Sea remains an important hub for investment and will continue to be at the heart of UK energy security for years to come.”

Separately, Premier Oil boosted the estimated size of its Catcher East discovery in the North Sea to between 50 and 80 million barrels, up from earlier estimates of 25 to 50 million barrels.

Contrary to its popular image, the UK continental shelf still has up to 24 billion barrels of oil left to find. But the remaining fields are more difficult, and expensive. The lobby group Oil and Gas UK says stability in the tax regime, and recent increases in the allowances for trickier fields, have helped boost investor confidence. Malcolm Webb, the chief executive, said: “We are pleased that improved forecasts are now being reflected in increased activity on the UK’s continental shelf.”

Meanwhile, BP yesterday admitted the Gulf of Mexico disaster has cost the company $2.65bn (£1.75bn) so far