An annual review of the oil and gas exploration and production (E&P) sector by market analyst Wood Mackenzie found high oil prices and constructive tax talks between the UK Government and industry had increased investor confidence.
Optimism generated by high levels of capital investment and mergers and acquisitions had been dampened, it added, by poor E&P performance in 2012.
WoodMac said that, while there was a lot of development activity expected until 2015, low exploration success rates raised concerns about the longer-term project pipeline.
Lead analyst Lindsay Wexelstein said: “The outlook in the next few years for the UK is encouraging.
“Over $60billion (£39billion) of capital investment is expected to be spent in the UK between 2012 and 2015.”
She said that in real terms, last year’s spending was at levels experienced in the mid-1970s, but added: “This was partly driven by spend on more technically challenging projects and cost inflation. Only two discoveries were made – Carnaby and Cormorant East – with combined reserves of 20million barrels of oil equivalent.”
This year, the area west of Shetland was expected to provide the best opportunity for discoveries with four prospects expected to give results: North Uist, Spinnaker, Glenrothes and Cragganmore.
Fiscal incentives, plus increased certainty over the rate of tax relief on field-abandonment costs, had helped some investor confidence to return.
The report said nine new fields were brought on stream in 2012, with recoverable reserves of 153million barrels, a fourfold year-on-year increase.
WoodMac expected the upturn to continue this year, forecasting 21 fields with combined reserves of 638million barrels to come on stream.
Larger gas projects, including Breagh and Jasmine, were also expected to start producing in 2013.
Ms Wexelstein added: “The success of the 27th licensing round demonstrates the continued attractiveness of the UK as a place to explore.
“But, with only 18 firm wells committed within the next four years, the round is not expected to significantly boost exploration and appraisal drilling in the medium term.”