NORTH Sea-focused Chrysaor has underlined its intent to expand in the area after completing the acquisition of a big chunk of Royal Dutch Shell’s portfolio with private equity backing.

Chrysaor agreed in January to buy a basket of fields which accounted for around half of Shell’s North Sea production for up to $3.8 billion (£3bn) in January, in a deal that made it the biggest independent in the basin.

Chief executive Phil Kirk signalled work on developing plans to help maximise the potential of the portfolio is advanced.

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“We are already working hard to mature drilling opportunities in the Chrysaor-operated assets,” said Mr Kirk.

The comments will boost hopes that independents such as Chrysaor could help kick start a recovery in the North Sea following the long downturn triggered by the sharp fall in crude prices since 2014.

Independents may invest in development projects that would be considered too small to interest the giants.

Chrysaor could start drilling work in the new year.

It is one of a number of firms that have bought North Sea assets that bigger fish decided were non core in the last year, after winning significant support from international private equity players.

Chrysaor’s American backers said the North Sea is being rejuvenated.

Some financiers appear to feel that now is a good time to invest in the North Sea. Sector watchers have noted a range of assets have been put up for sale at attractive prices.

The investment firm that provided funding for Chrysaor to buy the Shell assets, Harbour Energy, said it would support the company in its drive to achieve material growth.

“With improving operating costs, competitive fiscal terms and a world class skills base, the North Sea is undergoing a period of rejuvenation,” said Harbour Energy chief executive Linda Cook, who chairs Chrysaor.

”Through its acquisition of the Shell portfolio Chrysaor is now firmly placed to take advantage of this change,” added the energy industry veteran.

Ms Cook spent 29 years at Shell including five on the group board as head of the gas and power division.

Shell wants to reduce its exposure to mature fields in the North Sea in order to focus on what it regards as more promising growth prospects.

The company is investing heavily in the development of big fields West of Shetland, such as Schiehallion, and overseas. It expects to be able to run these more profitably than older assets.

Shell said it retains a significant, more focused and strengthened presence in the UK North Sea, to which it remains committed.

The group, which announces third quarter results today, will book a $1bn profit on the sale of the portfolio. This includes a 10 per cent interest in Schiehallion and a 22 per cent stake in the giant Buzzard field in the Moray Firth.

Shell produced around 115,000 barrels oil equivalent daily from the portfolio last year.

Some 253 Shell staff transferred to Chrysaor on the deal’s completion. London-based Chrysaor has its operations centre in Aberdeen.

Other private equity-backed firms that have bought significant North Sea portfolios in the past year include Siccar Point Energy and Neptune.

Siccar Point acquired the UK business of Austria’s OMV last November, giving it a significant presence West of Shetland.

Neptune Oil & Gas bought the exploration and production arm of French utility Engie in May.