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Oil group says Budget puts exploration at risk: Amerada Hess hits out at Chancellor's 'driller killer' plans

AMERADA HESS, the big US oil group, yesterday warned that exploration and development of new fields in the North Sea were at a severe risk due to tax changes proposed in the Budget, writes Neil Thapar.

The company, one of the most active in British waters, said that the Chancellor's proposal to abolish tax relief on exploration and appraisal costs could result in a two-thirds fall in drilling work and cost thousands of jobs.

Sam Laidlaw, managing director of Amerada Hess, said that the company was reviewing its own operations as a result of the changes and threatened to withdraw its applications to develop new fields if they become uneconomic.

He said that there was widespread anger in the industry about the tax changes, which would make Britain significantly less attractive for the oil industry than many other territories, including Norway and Australia.

The company has already decided to more than halve its drilling programme this year to 10 wells and estimates that the industry's total drilling activity could fall from 130 last year to about 80 this year.

Describing the Chancellor's plans as 'driller killer', he said: 'Those companies that will be most severely affected will be those who have demonstrated the greatest commitment to the future of the UK continental shelf through active participation in licensing rounds.'

The company says that the withdrawal of the relief - whereby drilling costs can be offest against profits of producing fields - would quadruple the costs of developing small fields.