NORTH Sea focused Neptune Energy has beefed up its management team as experts highlighted the potential for the firm and other independents to invest billions in the area.

Neptune, which is led by former Centrica boss Sam Laidlaw, said Amanda Chilcott will join as group human resources director from Glasgow-based Agrreko after holding a senior HR position at the generator specialist.

Gro Gunleiksrud Haatvedt is joining Neptune as vice president and group head of exploration from Norway’s Aker BP which announced she was leaving last month.

Neptune’s chief executive Jim House said both recruits are expected to play a major role in the company’s drive to become a leading independent exploration and production company.

The company has quickly carved out a significant position in the UK North Sea through acquisitions

Neptune bought French utility Engie’s exploration and production arm in a €4.7 billion deal which completed in February.

In June Neptune agreed to buy acreage in the Norwegian North Sea from German utility VNG.

The company belongs to a cohort of independents that have won support from international private equity investors for North Sea expansion drives.

Sector watchers have noted the downturn triggered by the crude price plunge that started in 2014 created opportunities for firms to buy assets at attractive prices, amid moves by some majors to shift investment to other areas.

Wood Mackenzie noted that eight private equity-backed firms have entered the North Sea recently, including Neptune Energy.

Neivan Boroujerdi, senior research analyst, North Sea upstream, at the oil and gas consultancy said firms have completed deals worth $12bn in total in the area since 2014, using $10bn committed by private equity investors.

Companies have secured a further $13bn funding for investment in the North Sea, which they have yet to deploy.

Mr Boroujerdi noted that Neptune and Chrysaor both have the capacity to do deals worth $2bn plus.

Chrysaor bought a £3bn North Sea portfolio from Shell last year, with support from US financiers.

Wood Mackenzie said some new entrants have acquired production assets in the expectation they can boost output while lowering costs. Neptune and Chrysaor fall into that category.

Others have focused on exploration and appraisal work and should benefit from the reduction in the cost of services such as drilling support triggered by the crude price fall. This category includes Azinor Catalyst, which is drilling a well off Shetland with Cairn Energy and Faroe Petroleum.

“The influx of private equity investment has sparked a new momentum in the North Sea, revitalising assets, extending the life of fields and igniting animal spirits,” said Mr Boroujerdi.