WHILE Brent crude is still selling for around $40 per barrel less than the $115/bbl it fetched in June 2014, yesterday’s results announcement from BP showed oil giants are generating huge profits on production at current prices.

Both BP and Shell have shown confidence in their prospects in recent days by confirming plans to return billions to shareholders though buy backs in addition to at least maintaining dividend payouts.

The bullishness may inspire mixed feelings in the North Sea, where both firms made hefty job cuts and sold what they deemed to be non-core assets amid the thee year downturn the industry is emerging from.

Optimists will take heart from the fact BP clearly appears ready to invest heavily in the parts of its remaining North Sea portfolio that directors reckon offer good growth prospects.

There appears to be real excitement at the company about the long term potential of the giant Clair field West of Shetland, where another development phase may be in prospect.

BP stoked interest in the exploration potential of the North Sea in January when it announced it had made two finds and said it expected to double production in the area in coming years.

The talk of investment and exploration success contrasts with the news of cut backs and North Sea disposals which dominated the North Sea narrative for years.

But it may be a long time before projects under consideration translate into significant amounts of work for firms in the hard-pressed supply chain. With the second phase of Clair due onstream later this year work on what has been a huge project will wind down.

BP employees are waiting to see how the North Sea will be impacted by ongoing cost cutting moves. In May BP announced plans to cut its exploration and production workforce numbers by around three per cent globally.