NORTH Sea heavyweight Premier Oil has underlined its confidence in the exploration potential of the area as it hailed the performance of the giant field it brought into production last year.

London-based Premier said it has been producing 60,000 barrels of oil daily from the Catcher field east of Aberdeen recently, putting the company on course to generate lots of cash from the asset this year.

Chief executive Tony Durrant noted Premier has benefited from the rise in the oil price since late 2016.

Premier brought Catcher onstream with Edinburgh-based Cairn Energy in December on schedule and under budget.

In an update on first quarter trading Premier said the latest Catcher development well encountered “significantly more oil bearing sands than originally prognosed with better than expected reservoir quality”.

Premier noted it still expects to produce first gas from the Tolmount field in the Southern North Sea in the last quarter of 2020.

The company said its UK exploration focus is the potential for making further finds in the Greater Tolmount Area. It plans to acquire 3D seismic survey data this summer in advance of drilling the Tolmount East Appraisal well in 2019.

Bad weather conditions and natural decline impacted on production from the Huntington field in the first quarter. Other UK assets performed broadly in line with expectations.

Premier made no mention of the Solan field West of Shetland, on which it has faced challenges.

In March the company said production from Solan had been lower than originally expected due to poor reservoir performance. Mr Durrant said then Solan had not been a successful project.

The company started production from Solan in April 2016 around 18 months later than planned.

It made a big find off Mexico last year.

Mr Durrant said yesterday the improved commodity price environment put Premier in a strong position to generate significant free cash flow in the second half of the year.

“We are on track to deliver our plan of material debt reduction in 2018 and 2019 with selective investment in our future growth projects from 2020,” said Mr Durrant.