INDUSTRY leaders have hailed the start up of production from the giant Mariner field East of Shetland yesterday which they said could have a long-lasting impact on the wider North Sea area.

Mariner is the biggest field development completed on the United Kingdom Continental Shelf for years.

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The field is expected to produce more than 300 million barrels of oil over the next 30 years.

It was developed by Norwegian giant Equinor which expects to invest around $8 billion (£6.6bn) in the project over the life of the field, which it reckons will support over 700 long term jobs.

The development was completed against a challenging backdrop, following the sharp fall in the crude price since 2014.

Equinor, formerly called Statoil, has used a range of modern technologies to help it boost returns from a field that was long thought to be too difficult to develop economically.

The field was discovered in 1981.

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Industry body Oil & Gas UK said: “First oil from Mariner represents a significant achievement for Equinor and its pioneering development of the field, helping the company to become a major player in the UK sector of the North Sea with a long-lasting, positive impact on the region.”

The start of production could encourage other firms to try to develop other finds on the UK Continental Shelf that have been left idle.

The head of Equinor’s exploration and production business in the UK, Hedda Felin, said the start up of production established a foothold for the firm in the UK and reinforced its commitment to be a long-term energy partner.

Equinor bought a staked in the Rosebank find off Shetland from Chevron last year. It described Rosebank as one of the biggest undeveloped finds on the UK Continental Shelf.

The company has said it sees significant exploration potential in the UK North Sea.