NORTH Sea oil and gas industry leaders have welcomed news that Total has made a bumper find West of Shetland which they said underlined the potential of a frontier region.

The French giant said yesterday it had made a discovery it reckons could contain around 1 trillion cubic feet of gas, around 176 million barrels oil equivalent, 50 miles North West of Shetland.

Read more: French oil giant sees a bright future in UK North Sea

Experts at Wood Mackenzie said a gas find on that scale would be the biggest in UK waters for a decade. The oil and gas consultancy reckons Glendronach could contribute as much as 10% of the UK’s annual gas production in its early years.

It said the discovery could whet the appetite of firms looking to invest in the West of Shetland area, amid hopes billions of barrels could be recovered from the United Kingdom Continental Shelf in coming decades.

“West of Shetland is now the key area for growth in the UK,” said Kevin Swann, senior North Sea research analyst at Wood Mackenzie, who noted majors such as BP and Shell have invested heavily in the area in recent years.

Energy giant SSE has a 20 per cent stake in Glendronach, which it said represented a major addition to the firm’s gas resources. The Scottish Hydroelectric owner bought stakes in West of Shetland licences from Total in a £565 million deal in 2015.

Grangemouth refinery owner Ineos also has a 20% stake in Glendronach, with Total on 60%.

Read more: Ineos aims to be significant force in West of Shetland oil and gas business

Paris-based Total said the strike vindicated its decision to mount an exploration push in an area in which there has been relatively little drilling compared with much of the UKCS.

The head of the firm’s exploration and production arm Arnaud Breuillac said: “Glendronach is a significant discovery for Total which gives us access to additional gas resources in one of our core areas,”He noted Glendronach lies on an “emerging play of the prolific West of Shetland area”.

Oil & Gas UK echoed Mr Breuillac’s sentiments.

“This is a major discovery by Total which demonstrates the exciting potential the West of Shetland frontier region holds,” said the chief executive of the industry body, Deirdre Michie.

The find will encourage hopes huge quantities of oil and gas could be recovered West of Shetland.

The potential of the geology of the area has long been recognised but firms have been deterred from drilling by the challenges involved operating in its stormy waters and the fact there is little production infrastructure in place.

But Mr Breuillac said Total expects to be able to develop Glendronach relatively easily by connecting it to production facilities installed for the giant Laggan Tormore gas development nearby.

Total started production from Laggan Tormore in 2016 following delays.

It was persuaded to persevere amid the crude price plunge from 2014 to 2016 by the size of the prize on offer.

BP and Shell have invested billions developing finds West of Shetland in recent years in the expectation that the size of the fields concerned would allow them to generate good returns, even at low oil prices.

Advances in technology and the fall in the cost of services in the North Sea amid the crude price plunge helped improve the economics of developments.

The oil price rally since late 2016 has provided a spur to exploration and development activity without yet resulting in costs increasing.

Read more: North Sea oil and gas industry to generate £10bn surplus this year

Brent crude rose to a four year high of around $80 per barrel yesterday. Opec members and Russia decided at the weekend to maintain production curbs in the face of calls from President Trump to relax them to dampen prices.

Oil sold for less than $30/bbl in the first quarter of 2016. It fetched $115/bbl in the summer of 2014.

Total increased its exposure to the UK North Sea through the £5.8bn acquisition of Maersk Oil in August last year. Jean-Luc Guiziou took over as head of Total’s North Sea exploration and production business in May.

Oil & Gas UK said the Glendronach find showed firms could achieve lots through work on their existing licences.

SSE said it would continue to support exploration and appraisal activities around its existing assets.

Ineos acquired a significant West of Shetland presence through the acquisition of the North Sea oil and gas portfolio of Denmark's Dong Energy for up to £1bn in May last year. In November the chemicals giant bought in to Siccar Point’s Lyon prospect, which has generated excitement in the industry.

A spokesperson for Ineos said yesterday the Glendronach discovery was great news for the industry and showed the North Sea sector continues to be a vital part of the UK’s energy provision.