A group of companies has made what could be one of the biggest North Sea oil discoveries in nearly a decade.
Explorer EnCore Oil is expected to announce this week that its Catcher prospect in the central North Sea contains up to 300million barrels of oil, about 150million of which is likely to be recoverable.
The announcement is being seen as a significant boost for the Aberdeen economy and the energy industry.
It would make Catcher among the largest UK North Sea discoveries since the giant Buzzard find in the outer Moray Firth in 2001.
Further drilling on another two or three wells on neighbouring geological structures will determine whether the discoveries are part of a single petroleum system that could hold up to 800million barrels.
A number of EnCore’s team were responsible for the discovery of the Buzzard field, which now produces more than 10% of the UK’s total oil output.
EnCore is operator of Catcher and has a 15% stake in the joint venture, alongside Premier Oil (35%), Wintershall (20%), Nautical Petroleum (15%) and Agora Oil and Gas (15%), which is backed by Lord Rothschild.
The discovery is likely to boost interest in North Sea exploration at a time when oil operators are turning their attention to high-impact wells in areas such as West Africa, Brazil and Australia.
EnCore said earlier this month after well-testing operations were completed that the Catcher discovery well had encountered a 240ft oil column.
Chief executive Alan Booth said: “Our next task is to sidetrack into the Catcher East area, where we hope to find additional hydrocarbon-bearing reservoirs. We believe the Catcher East area will have the potential to add significant additional volumes.”
Partner Premier had earlier said Catcher was a light-oil discovery with recoverable reserves of up to 50million barrels.
Aberdeen Central MSP Lewis Macdonald said the expected announcement was excellent news for the energy industry and the Aberdeen economy, and proved there was a lot of life left in North Sea oil.
“It shows the policy of encouraging new players was fully justified,” he said. “Diversity is healthy for the oil industry.”
Andrew Reid, the Aberdeen-based managing director of energy consultancy Douglas Westwood, said: “The UK North Sea exhibits world-class geology and, although the area is maturing, there is still a fair likelihood big finds will be made, even if the trend is towards small finds.”
Ian Armstrong, north-east manager of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, said: “The size of this discovery, if confirmed this week, would be excellent news for the north-east economy and confirms that North Sea oil and gas will continue to be vital to the UK’s energy supply for decades.”