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Warning about rate of oil finds in UK North Sea

THE recent boom in investment in the UK North Sea will be maintained until 2015 but may peter out after that unless the exploration success rate improves from last year's record low, experts said.

Wood Mackenzie predicted companies would invest over $60 billion (£37.5bn) in the North Sea between 2012 and 2015 as they look to boost production to cash in on booming demand for oil and gas.

This encouraged them to ramp up spending last year to levels not seen since the heyday of the North Sea in the 1970s according to Wood Mackenzie.

The Edinburgh-based energy consultancy believes tax breaks introduced by the Coalition Government following the outcry over the hike in taxes in 2011 will encourage firms to keep on spending.

"Based on our review of 2012, the outlook in the next few years for the UK is encouraging and we expect the trend of high levels of capital investment to continue," said Lindsay Wexelstein, UK Upstream Lead Analyst for Wood Mackenzie.

Noting that firms started production from nine new fields in 2012, Wood Mackenzie predicted firms would look to bring more onstream and to increase output from existing assets in 2013.

However, Ms Wexelstein cautioned that investment could drop after 2015 unless firms improved on their recent record with the drill bit.

She said: "2012 was another disappointing year for exploration. Although 66 exploration and appraisal wells were spudded, a 40% increase on 2011, only two discoveries were made – Carnaby and Cormorant East – with combined reserves of 20 million barrels oil equivalent.

"The exploration success rate stands at an all-time low."

Ms Wexelstein said much will hinge on how firms perform in the deeps West of Shetland, where the results of drilling on the North Uist, Spinnaker, Glenrothes and Cragganmore prospects will be closely watched this year.

But she said the success of the recent 27th Licensing Round demonstrated the continued attractiveness of the UK as a place to explore.

Noting the value of mergers and acquisitions activity reached a 10-year high of $9bn in the UK last year, Ms Wexelstein said the Government's promise of certainty on the tax relief available for decommissioning costs will increase interest in assets.

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