NORTH Sea heavyweight Premier Oil has highlighted the potential to make more finds near the flagship Catcher development east of Aberdeen, which helped power a dramatic increase in first half profits.

Premier made $98.4 million (£76.5m) after tax in the six months to June against $40.7m last time.

The company noted production from the Catcher field had offset the effect of natural decline in other fields and of disposals, allowing the firm to capitalise on the recent oil price rally.

Premier achieved the expected peak production rate of 60,000 barrels oil daily from Catcher in May. It brought the 100 million barrel field into production on schedule and under budget in December.

Led by chief executive Tony Durrant, Premier said the success of Catcher along with higher commodity prices had resulted in a step change in production and cash generation, substantially de-risking its debt reduction forecasts.

The firm added: “ We also see the potential for considerable upside from the Catcher Area as a result of better than expected initial production rates and the opportunity to maintain and extend plateau production through infill drilling and the tie-back of near field discoveries.”

Premier boosted the North Sea oil and gas industry this week by approving plans to develop the Tolmount gas field with Dana Petroleum.Tolmount is one of the biggest undeveloped finds in the Southern North Sea.

The company said it produced an average 4,500 barrels oil daily from the Solan field West of Shetland in the first half, citing high operating efficiency. It is considering drilling more wells on Solan to help increase recovery rates.