SHARES in North Sea-focused i3 Energy have plunged around 40 per cent after the firm suffered a drilling reverse.

The company said a well drilled on the Liberator West prospect in the Moray Firth had encountered a thinner layer of oil than was hoped for, prompting the firm to scale back its development plans.

North Sea firm secures funding for key wells as it eyes bumper development

Aim market-listed i3 said it will now focus on a simplified Liberator Phase I development initially consisting of a low-cost, single-well development. It hopes to secure funding from senior lenders for such a plan.

In its annual results announcement in May i3 said it expected to deliver first oil from Liberator in 2020 from “two concurrent producers at targeted rates of approximately 20,000 bopd (barrels oil per day)”.

The company’s progress will be watched closely amid hopes that relatively small independents can stimulate activity in the North Sea by developing finds bigger fish left idle.

Oil and gas minnow stokes interest in big North Sea prospects

Liberator was discovered in 2013 by Korean-owned Dana Petroleum, which sold its interest in the field to i3 Energy in 2016.

Shares in i3 Energy closed down 7.12p at 10.38p.