North Sea oil and gas firms could increase their total profits by £1 billion a year amid the crude price plunge simply by getting better at detecting problems such as leaks from insulated piping, industry leaders have claimed.

They believe that improved inspection and maintenance procedures will be key to improving the performance of firms in what is seen as a high cost area, in which efficiency has been declining.

The Technology Leadership Board reckons firms could find many ways to improve their performances in key areas are already in use in other industries.

The umbrella organisation has commissioned Total, the French oil giant and North Sea engineering heavyweight Amec Foster Wheeler to complete a study that will aim to find useful technologies that could be applied in the North Sea.

“It’s vital that our industry gets ahead of the crisis,” said Jeremy Cutler, head of technology at Total’s UK exploration and production arm. “By using the best technology and innovation available we play to our strengths and give ourselves the best chance to ensure a bright future for the British offshore industry.”

The priorities for the study include coming up with ways to improve the efficiency of efforts to tackle corrosion under insulation, which is responsible for 60 per cent of leaks from piping. Key challenges will include finding ways of detecting corrosion without first having to remove the insulation that will also minimise the use of scaffolding.

The study will also try to find ways of speeding up the inspection of the chambers used in the production process vessels and of reducing the need for people to enter the confined spaces involved.

Andy Ewens, Director of Operations at Amec Foster Wheeler, said the findings of the study could help firms to improve their performance in the short term and to extend the lives of North Sea assets over a longer timeframe.

Work on the study will be supported by the Oil & Gas Innovation Centre, which helps firms harness the expertise held in Scottish universities and the Industry Technology Facilitator support organisation.