NORTH Sea-focused i3 Energy has said it has secured £22m funding from international investors to support drilling work on targets it thinks could contain 500 million barrels in total sending its shares surging.

Aberdeen-based i3 said backers ranging from an international oil giant to hedge fund investors had agreed to provide the debt-funding in a success that provides a notable vote of confidence in the North Sea.

The fund-raising will give i3 the firepower to complete a three well drilling campaign in the Moray Firth this summer that could pave the way for it to approving big North Sea developments.

The campaign will include appraisal work on the Liberator discovery, which is estimated to contain around 315m barrels oil. The company hopes to bring this onstream in 2020.

i3 will also complete exploration drilling on the Serenity prospect nearby, which it reckons could contain around 195m barrels.

Chief executive Majid Shafiq said: “The Company is now fully focused on delivering a successful 2019 drilling programme and execution of the Liberator development.”

The £22m loan facility is being provided by oil giant BP, hedge funds Bybrook Capital and James Caird Asset Management and Swiss investment firm Lombard Odier.

For i3 to win backing from such players sends a signal the North Sea is back in favour with investors. Interest in the area cooled in response to the crude price plunge.

The company secured £18m support for the drilling programme from equity investors including Lombard Odier recently.

In February i3 said it would pay eight per cent interest on the four-year junior loan facility. The facility providers will have warrants to acquire shares at from 40.7p to 55.5p each.

Shares in i3 Energy closed up 10 per cent, 4p at 43p.