DRILLING on potential new oil and gas fields doubled in the UK North Sea in the first quarter in spite of the plunge in the crude price but exploration activity was muted.

The UK Government said oil and gas firms started drilling 10 exploration and appraisal wells in UK waters in the three months to March, compared with five in the same period of 2014. Only two of the new wells targeted new finds rather than appraising existing discoveries. Firms drilled 26 development wells on fields they plan to bring into production, versus 30 in the first quarter of 2014. The Chancellor slashed North Sea tax rates in The Budget in March. Ritchie Whyte, Corporate and Business Advisory Partner at law firm Aberdein Considine, said the upturn in appraisal work was a positive indicator of new work to come for energy firms. He added: "Exploration generally remains a worry - although there appears to now be an acknowledgment within the Treasury that taxation levels are an issue."