OIL and gas firms may start exploring west of the Hebrides despite a slump in the price of crude.

The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) said the “industry has responded strongly” to the latest round of exploration which included unexplored areas in the Rockall Trough, which lies to the west of Ireland and the United Kingdom.

Department of Energy & Climate Change records show that there were 12 instances of exploration rigs drilling west of the Hebrides between 1980 and 2006 since which time activity appears to have faded.

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The OGA said that in the 29th round of offshore so-called niche Frontier licences fewer than one in ten exploration block were applied for with 1,261 blocks on offer.

Twenty years ago, when a similar offer was made available, the take-up was just over one in four with 76 Frontier blocks out of 275 actually licensed.

OGA chief executive Andy Samuel said: “Despite the difficult climate, industry has responded strongly to our offer, using analysis and insights to identify new prospects and submit high quality applications on blocks that did not attract interest in recent licensing rounds. This confirms the high remaining potential in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) frontier areas.

“Long standing investors continue to seek new acreage and we also welcome the arrival of new entrants.

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“Licences awarded will provide continued opportunities for our world-class service sector to develop technology and expertise, and ultimately, should provide new energy supplies to the UK.”

But Jake Molloy of the RMT, which represents UK oil workers, said the lack of take up was a “concern” and added to the worries about a drop in exploration in the North Sea.

“Even if the licences are granted, there is no guarantee that they will even begin exploration,” he said.

It would not be the first time that analysts have disagreed with an OGA outlook, though.

Douglas Westwood has disagreed with an OGA prediction that UKCS exploration and appraisal (E&A) work would recover to the point that about 50 wells would be drilled annually by 2021.

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Meanwhile oil prices fell to a five-week low on Monday as scepticism reigns over proposed production cuts by major oil-producing nations.

With the official meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries only a month away, many analysts doubt whether the cartel can get a consensus to cut production.

Azerbaijan, Brazil, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Oman and Russia all refused to commit to cut or even freeze production until there was agreement among OPEC member states.

The price of Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, fell by 2.8%, to $48.30 a barrel.

Last month, Professor Paul de Leeuw, director of Robert Gordon University’s Oil and Gas Institute warned that 2017 would be another washout for North Sea drilling unless investment is secured quickly.

The number of rigs drilling for oil and gas in the North Sea fell to a near 35 year low in September with just 27 rigs active in the basin last month, according to Baker Hughes.

Oil and Gas UK said in September that the downward trend in exploration and appraisal drilling was likely to continue this year.