DELTIC Energy has hailed what could be “one of the largest natural gas discoveries in the Southern North Sea in over a decade”, sending shares in the company soaring nearly 20 per cent.

The North Sea minnow informed investors today that it had made a “significant oil and gas discovery” at the Pensacola exploration well it is drilling in partnership with Shell.

It looks set to vindicate the decision by Deltic to focus on parts of the North Sa overlooked by other companies following the downturn in the oil and gas industry from 2014, while also boosting efforts to ramp up domestic energy supplies in the wake of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Deltic has in recent years persuaded major operators such as Shell and Capricorn Energy (formerly Cairn Energy) to buy into acreage on licences it holds in the Central and Southern North Sea. The Pensacola prospect is contained within the P2252 licence, in which Shell has a 65% working interest and is also the operator. Deltic holds a 30% interest and ONE-Dyas 5%.

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Deltic said work on the exploration well had opened a new Zechstein play in this mature basin.

Graham Swindells, chief executive of Deltic, said: "Deltic's first exploration well at Pensacola has resulted in a highly positive outcome and, at approximately 300 BCF (billion cubic feet), would represent one of the largest natural gas discoveries in the Southern North Sea in over a decade.  This discovery is a major milestone in the development of our company as we continue to execute our exploration led strategy and progress our portfolio of high-quality drilling opportunities as we seek to create value for our shareholders.

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 “We believe that the Pensacola discovery will open a new Zechstein play in this mature basin and highlights the remaining potential of the North Sea as a source of further discoveries which can provide domestically produced natural gas, supporting UK energy security while we transition toward a net-zero economy.

 “As we continue our preparations for drilling the Selene well, we are now looking forward to working with our partners as we continue to progress this exciting and significant gas discovery at Pensacola and look forward to updating the market on our future plans."

Shares in Deltic closed up 18.5% at 3.2p.