NEPTUNE Energy has said the start of production from a big North Sea field could be delayed by more than a year as a result of the challenges posed by the coronavirus.

The oil and gas firm said first oil from the 50 million barrel Seagull field east of Aberdeen is likely to be delayed by 12 to 15 months until the fourth quarter of 2022. It highlighted the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on its supply chain and logistics.

The news underlines the scale of the problems caused by the virus for firms operating in the North Sea.

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Safety measures introduced to slow the spread of the virus have made it harder for firms to complete work offshore.

Neptune is developing Seagull with BP and Japex. The field will be linked with the ETAP production facility operated by BP.

The regulator has been told the timing of work on upgrading the facility has been put under review as a result of coronavirus mitigation measures.

Neptune reckons it is well-placed to deal with tough conditions after making $323 million (£260m) underlying profit in the first quarter. It recently announced plans to cut spending around the world by $300m to $400m in total this year

The company has scaled back its North Sea expansion drive following the plunge in the oil price triggered by the coronavirus.

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Earlier this month it scrapped a £230million deal to buy the North Sea portfolio amassed by Italy’s Edison.

BP’s chief executive Bernard Looney yesterday said the oil price fall had left him convinced the company had made the right decision to sharpen its focus on renewables.

After taking charge at BP in February Mr Looney announced the company planned to become a net-zero company by 2050 in terms of emissions.

He told BP’s annual meeting yesterday: “The more we understand the current situation, the more I am convinced that the decisions we took in February are right.”

Mr Looney cited increasing uncertainty surrounding the future demand for oil, and volatility in oil markets; increasing awareness of the fragility of the world we live in and the increasing attractiveness of stable returns from some renewables.

However, campaigners questioned BP’s commitment to tackling climate change.

Mel Evans, senior climate campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “Mr Looney says he is committed to ‘net-zero’ while also promising that BP will be in the oil and gas business for ‘a very long time’. He cannot have it both ways. The only way BP can address its climate impact is to stop drilling for new oil and gas and switch to renewables.”

Greenpeace supporters staged a demonstration outside BP’s London headquarters while complying with social distancing requirements.

The meeting was closed to comply with Government guidance prohibiting gatherings. Proceedings were streamed on the internet.

In February last year, when he was head of BP’s exploration and production arm, Mr Looney said the North Sea was one of the company’s top four cash-generating regions.

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However, spending is set to come under pressure across the board at BP. In April BP announced plans to cut investment in new assets by $4 billion. The company said it expected to achieve around $2.5 billion savings on operating costs annually by the end of 2021.

The International Energy Agency predicted yesterday that total global investment in oil and gas developments would plunge by around a third, or about $250bn, this year in response to the impact of the coronavirus and related lockdowns.

The Paris-based watchdog said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has set in motion the largest drop in global energy investment in history, with spending expected to plunge in every major sector this year – from fossil fuels to renewables and efficiency.”

It forecast that total energy investment would fall by 20%, or $400bn.

The IEA said power sector spending is on course to decrease by 10% in 2020, with “worrying signals for the development of more secure and sustainable power systems”.