ENERGY giant Centrica has underlined the importance of its West of Shetland oil and gas exploration drive after losing another 234,000 customers in the UK.

In an update on trading the Scottish Gas owner included the start of drilling off Shetland in a list of key developments in the first four months of the year.

Centrica noted the Warwick deep well is the first of three it will drill on targets identified by Hurricane Energy, which has pioneered the hunt for oil and gas in the so-called fractured basement zone West of Shetland.

The group acquired a stake in the acreage from Hurricane last year through the Spirit Energy oil and gas business it owns with German investors. Spirit agreed to fund a $180m drilling campaign covering exploration work on the Warwick prospect and appraisal of the Lincoln find.

Production from Spirit and Centrica’s Rough gas field ran slightly ahead of expectations in the first four months.

Centrica said the trading environment in the first four months was challenging, citing the impact of the introduction of the energy price cap in the UK from January 1 and warmer than normal weather.

UK home energy supply customer account numbers fell by 234,000 in the first four months.Centrica noted a spike in customer churn in March and April following the announcement in February of an increase in the level of the default tariff cap by Ofgem.

The group had 23.7 million household energy customer accounts at December 31 against 24.4m at the start of the year. Its oil and gas arm made £521m profit in 2018, of a group total of £1.4 billion.