THE chief executive of North Sea heavyweight Premier Oil has said the company is a believer in the area where it sees lots of room for growth and is eyeing further acquisitions.

Tony Durrant said Premier is looking at some asset opportunities and would be keen to increase its 50 per cent holding in the giant Catcher field south-east of Aberdeen, which it brought into production recently.

However, he conceded that the flagship Solan development West of Shetland has not been a success for London-based Premier.

Speaking after Premier said it had achieved record production of 75,000 barrel oil equivalent per day in 2017, Mr Durrant said the success vindicated its decision to keep investing in the North Sea amid the sharp fall in the crude price since 2014.

“We are believers in the North Sea and we think there are plenty of opportunities for a company of our size to add barrels,” he said, adding: “If the opportunity arises we would love to have more of Catcher.”

The enthusiasm for the North Sea partly reflects the partial recovery in the crude price since late in 2016.

Premier has also benefited from the big drop in the price of support services seen in the area following cuts in investment by many firms in recent years.

“The cost position on our own assets and overall is such that a lot of fields that may not have been profitable a couple of years ago are now profitable,” said Mr Durrant.

The change in the cost environment helped Premier complete the Catcher development well under budget with Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy in December.

The development is on track to produce 60,000 barrels of oil daily in April, 50% of which will go to Premier. it is expected to help Premier achieve another big increase in output this year.

With the company producing oil from Catcher at less than $20 per barrel, Premier expects to generate plenty of cash from the field with crude selling for around $64 per barrel.

Brent crude fetched $115/bbl in June 2014 when Catcher was sanctioned.

The success of the Catcher development has provided a boost for the industry in the North Sea, where the fall out from the crude price plunge has taken a heavy toll.

It has encouraged Premier to progress plans to bring the Tolmount gas field onstream in the Southern North Sea. The company said Tolmount will provide the next significant phase of its growth.

Directors expect to decide in the second half whether to sanction the investment required.

Premier acquired Tolmount with the portfolio of North Sea assets it bought from Germany’s E.ON for $120m in 2016, in what looks to have been a well-timed deal.

It expects to net 50,000 barrels daily from Catcher and Tolmount until at least 2023.

The company could use the funds generated to reduce its $2.7 billion (£1.9bn) debts and fund exploration activity overseas and in the North Sea.

Premier made what looked like a giant find off Mexico last year. It has producing assets in Asia.

But Premier said production from the Solan field has been lower than originally expected due to poor reservoir performance, averaging 5,900 boepd in 2017.

When Premier started production from Solan in April 2016, the company expected to be producing 20,000 to 25,000 boed from the field by the end of that year.

Solan came onstream around 18 months later than planned. Premier has noted the impact of bad weather and low productivity on the development.

Mr Durrant said: “Going back to day one it’s not been a successful project.”

He said the lesson learned has been that Premier’s expertise lies in developing fields using floating production vessels, such as Catcher. Solan features a fixed production platform.

Premier cut the valuation of Solan by around $250m last year.

Mr Durrant said Premier thinks it has reached the bottom of the cycle with Solan. There may be more finds made in the area. The infrastructure installed for Solan could be used on other developments.

Premier lost $254m after tax in 2017, after making $123m profit in 2016.

The company also has assets in Asia. Its production averaged 71,400 boepd in 2016.