NORTH Sea focused Ithaca Energy has suffered a setback after an exploration well West of Shetland proved to be dry.

The drilling costs were picked up by other firms.

Aberdeen-based Ithaca Energy told investors an exploration well on the Handcross prospect would be plugged and abandoned after it failed to find any oil or gas.

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Handcross lies in a relatively under-explored area that has been attracting interest from oil and gas majors and independents.

A previous owner, Valiant Petroleum, estimated it contained around 180 million barrels oil equivalent.

Ithaca acquired a 90% stake in Handcross as part of the £203m takoever of Valiant in March last year.

However, Ithaca farmed out 65% of the licence through deals that resulted in the company getting its share of the costs of the exploration well covered and receiving an undisclosed amount of cash.

German utility RWE and Edison, an Italian energy firm, acquired stakes of 20% and 25% respectively. Oyster Petroleum, a West of Shetland focused company backed by Norway's HitecVision, acquired 15%. Privately-owned Sussex Energy also acquired 15%.

Ithaca did not say if it would do any further work on Handcross, in which it kept a 25% stake. It has a portfolio of producing fields and development projects, including some acquired with Valiant.

Separately, Aberdeen-based Plexus Holdings said it had won a £1.1m contract to supply equipment that will be used by Maesrk Oil for exploration work in the Danish North Sea.