Norwegian energy giant Statoil has announced that a new discovery in Scottish waters could contain in the range of 25 to 130 million barrels of oil.
The group said the find, in the Verbier sidetrack well in the outer Moray Firth, is proof that “there could be significant remaining potential” in the North Sea basin.
Jez Averty, senior vice president for exploration in Norway and the UK at Statoil, said: “This is an encouraging result for Statoil and the UK team.
“We have proven oil in good-quality sands with good reservoir properties, but significant work remains, most likely including appraisal, to clarify the recoverable volumes and to refine this range.”
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The group said it will continue to assess the data and plans further appraisals to determine the exact size of the discovery, as well as its commercial potential.
The discovery comes just weeks after new research suggested that the UK’s oil industry could be entering its final decade of production.
A study of output from offshore fields estimates about 10 per cent of the nation’s original recoverable oil and gas remains, according to the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences.
If the predictions are correct the UK would soon have to import all the oil and gas it needs, the university’s scientists warned.
Jenny Morris, vice president for exploration in the UK, said: “Our aim this summer was to develop Statoil’s UK position through testing three independent prospects ranging in geological risk and with a potential impact on our portfolio.
“Whilst the results of the other two exploration wells were disappointing, we are convinced of the remaining, high-value potential on the UK continental shelf and the Verbier result certainly gives us the confidence and determination to continue our exploration efforts.”
Industry leaders have welcomed the latest find, which comes only a few months after another firm announced there could be one billion barrels of recoverable oil in a giant field around 60 miles west of Shetland.
Deirdre Michie, chief executive of Oil & Gas UK, said: “This is good news from Statoil and partners, and we now really hope that the find proves to be commercially appealing and proceeds to development.
“It’s also another signal of confidence in the future of the UK Continental Shelf and the kind of development that should further persuade investors of the benefit of putting their money into this basin, which still holds billions of barrels of oil and gas.”
Scottish energy minister Paul Wheelhouse, said Statoil’s findings highlight “the significant potential for oil and gas which still exists under Scotland’s waters”.
He added: “With the right fiscal and regulatory environment, Scotland’s offshore oil and gas industry has a bright future, with up to 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent remaining under the North Sea and in the wider basin.
“Our Programme for Government reinforces the Scottish Government’s commitment to the sector, clearly stating that harnessing the resources of the North Sea will be vital to the Scottish economy for decades to come.
“Within that context, we will continue to push the UK Government to bring forward measures to increase exploration activity and attract fresh investment.”
Official figures show more than 40 billion barrels of oil equivalent have been extracted from the UK Continental Shelf since the 1970s.
Some experts believe there are substantial reserves remaining - Oil & Gas UK has estimated that up to 24 billion barrels of oil and gas equivalent can still be recovered from the area as a whole.
The North Sea produces around 1.5 million barrels a day.
Scotland accounted for more than 60 per cent of EU oil production and approximately a third of EU total hydrocarbon production in 2011.