NORTH Sea-focused RockRose Energy has started what it described as a significant period of development activity in a move that will boost hopes independents will fuel an increase in activity in the area.

RockRose has launched a drilling programme that will feature work on a new field. It will also include wells that are designed to help boost production from mature assets.

The programme reflects RockRose’s belief in the potential of an area that some bigger fish appear to have lost interest in.

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Led by former investment banker Andrew Austin, RockRose has built a significant business in the North Sea helped by a series of acquisitions.

Mr Austin spotted the opportunity to capitalise on the shakeup in the area triggered by the sharp fall in the crude price since 2014.

This has resulted in some firms selling North Sea assets to raise cash to invest elsewhere or to reduce debts. Others have looked to reduce their drilling and development commitments.

The drilling programme will include four wells on the Arran field, which RockRose expects to bring into production with Shell in 2021.

London—based RockRose has moved quickly into the development stage on Arran after acquiring an interest in the field from Korean-owned Dana in August 2018 for nominal consideration.

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The campaign will include two new production wells in the Brae area that RockRose hopes will help unlock an additional eight million barrels reserves.

RockRose gained an interest in Brae in February through the £107m acquisition of the North Sea portfolio developed by US heavyweight Marathon.

Marathon is one of a number of American firms that has sold North Sea assets under plans to focus on shale fields in the US.

The first well in RockRose’s campaign, WPGZ in the Brae area, is expected to start production in the first quarter of 2020.

RockRose also plans to drill two wells on the Blake field under plans to extend the life of the asset.

It acquired an interest in Blake in 2017 through the £30m purchase of the North Sea arm of Japan’s Idemitsu.

"This will add significant production and value to the Company, as we continue to deliver on our strategy; growing production and generating surplus cashflow that can be reinvested to maximise returns for shareholders," said Mr Austin of the planned drilling activity.

RockRose could use the cash generated from North Sea production to fund more acquisitions in the area.

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Earlier this month it was reported to have bid $1.2 billion for private equity-backed Siccar Point Energy, which has interests West of Shetland. Chrysaor Energy was reported to have bid $2bn.