SHETLAND-focused Hurricane Energy is parting company with pioneering chief executive Robert Trice after a dramatic reversal in the fortunes of the oil and gas firm.

Hurricane Energy shot to prominence after making finds in an under-explored area that Mr Trice recognised had potential.

READ MORE: Oil strike West of Shetland fuels hopes of boom in frontier area

However, the company has seen its shares plunge in recent months. It suffered drilling disappointment last year and then was engulfed by the fallout from the crude price plunge triggered by the coronavirus.

The company suspended its production guidance last month after hitting problems with a well.

Hurricane said Mr Trice has resigned as chief executive and a director by mutual agreement with its board. He will remain available to assist the company during a six-month transition period.

Mr Trice has been succeeded by a production specialist as Hurricane switches its focus from exploration to maximising output from the one field it has in production, Lancaster.

The news that Mr Trice is to leave Hurricane may be regarded with some sadness in the wider North Sea industry after what he achieved at the Aim market-listed firm.

A geologist by training, Mr Trice started Hurricane in a shed in the garden of his Surrey home in 2004 to focus on an area of rock called the fractured basement. This lies beneath the sandstone targeted by most North Sea wells.

Hurricane stoked huge excitement about the potential of the West of Shetland after discovering the bumper Lancaster field and others nearby.

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The company seemed set for great things following the start of production from Lancaster in June last year.

However, its shares have fallen from 58p to around 8p since May last year as the outlook for the firm has darkened.

The fall started after a drilling campaign which it was hoped would confirm the potential of other West of Shetland fields failed to live up to investors’ expectations.

The campaign was funded by Centrica-owned Spirit Energy. This bought in to Hurricane’s acreage in 2018.

Hurricane was required to rethink its plans for expansion amid the challenges posed by the plunge in the oil price since March.

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In the company’s annual report, which was published in April, Hurricane’s chairman Steven McTiernan said all future opportunities were being re-evaluated taking into account much lower oil prices. He noted that investor interest in the sector had “drastically reduced”.

Last month Hurricane suffered a big setback on Lancaster. The company suspended its production guidance after suffering problems with a well on the early production system (EPS) installed on the field.

It previously held out the prospect that success with the EPS could pave the way to a bigger full-field development.

Hurricane said yesterday it is producing 12,000 barrels oil per day (bopd) from one well on Lancaster.

It had been targeting a plateau production rate of 18,000 bopd from two wells.

Beverley Smith has been appointed acting chief executive with a brief to help Hurricane get as much as it can from Lancaster.

She became a non-executive director of Hurricane in December after a 30-year career with the former BG.

“Given the difficult macroeconomic backdrop and the need to strengthen the Company’s balance sheet, the Board is keenly focused on the need to increase production, whilst also keeping capital expenditure focused and to a minimum,” said Hurricane.

READ MORE: North Sea spending to fall by £10bn a year following oil price plunge 

Mr McTiernan said: “The Board commends Dr Trice’s pioneering efforts to explore the viability of the unique basement oil play west of the Shetlands. His dedication over a period of 16 years has built Hurricane into a recognised UK operator today.”

A spokesperson for Hurricane said Mr Trice would be entitled to a payment in lieu of notice in line with his contract.

The company also announced yesterday that non-executive director Roy Kelly had stood down.

Mr Kelly was the nominee of private equity investor Kerogen Capital, which backed Hurricane amid the downturn triggered by the crude price plunge from 2014 to early 2016.

Mr Kelly has been replaced by Alan Parsley, a member of Kerogen’s advisory board.

Hurricane's acting chief financial officer Richard Chaffe has been confirmed in post.

Alistair Stobie resigned as CFO in February.