Offshore drilling on the UK continental shelf (UKCS) fell by 20% during the third quarter of 2010 compared with a year earlier.
This was revealed in the latest north-west Europe review compiled by Deloitte’s petroleum service group.
The study found 24 exploration and appraisal wells were started in the UKCS between July 1 and September 30, compared with 30 a year earlier.
Deloitte energy partner in Aberdeen Graham Hollis said: “Despite a more consistent oil price recently, it is likely that we are seeing the continuing impact of the recent economic crisis playing out in this year’s North Sea drilling activity.
“Many companies adopted a more cautious approach to drilling schedules during the recession as they placed emphasis on cash flow and controlling costs and these continue to be priorities for many organisations.
“So far in 2010, there has been a net decrease of 9% in exploration and appraisal activity when compared to the same period of 2009.”
The review showed there was a 4% rise in the number of wells started in the UKCS in the third quarter compared with the second.
It said this could be attributed to higher levels of exploration drilling in the UKCS, up 32% year-on-year for the first three quarters of 2010.
The central North Sea represented the area of most activity, with 41% of all wells drilled in the UKCS in the third quarter.
The southern North Sea, which saw the highest level of drilling activity in the previous quarter, had only 8% of third-quarter drilling.
Norway saw just seven exploration and appraisal wells started in the third quarter, a 56% decrease on the number drilled in the second quarter. The Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland also reported low levels of drilling activity.
The US government should consider oil companies’ safety records and drilling experience before awarding leases to develop riskier offshore areas, according to the joint chairmen of the White House oilspill commission.
It said Washington needed to look at linking a specific location with the safety risks it imposed and who should have the responsibility of exploring and extracting from that site.
A seven-member commission, given the task of guiding the future of offshore drilling in the aftermath of the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, is discussing what findings it might include in its final report to the public early next year.
Joint chairman Bill Reilly said some countries required companies to be certified based on their drilling history before they could drill and the US should adopt a similar framework for offshore drilling.