Scottish oil explorer Cairn Energy said yesterday it planned to drill up to 15 wells in the North Sea before the end of next year.
The firm, which has increased its focus on the region this year with two multimillion-pound acquisitions, said it also wanted to increase its presence in both UK and Norwegian waters.
The Edinburgh-based business has hit the headlines in the past for its exploration activities in Arctic waters off Greenland – which have so far been unsuccessful – but has recently turned its attention to prospects closer to home and in the Mediterranean.
After acquiring Norwegian exploration firm Agora Oil and Gas for about £280million in April and Nautical Petroleum for £414million in June, Cairn now holds interests in 27 offshore licences in the North Sea; including stakes in the large Catcher, Kraken and Mariner fields.
Cairn said that, over the next 16 months, it expected to be involved in about seven firm and eight contingent North Sea exploration and appraisal wells.
In addition to planning further drilling work in Greenland over the coming years, the firm has submitted exploration bids offshore Cyprus and Spain, and said yesterday it had agreed to pay Serica Energy £38million towards the cost of an exploration well in Morocco. In return, Cairn will receive a 50% stake in the Foum Draa area.
Chief executive Simon Thomson said Cairn was rebalancing its portfolio to deliver exploration-led growth as the company reported narrowing losses in the six months to June 30.
Cairn made operating losses of £48.6million in the latest period, compared with £81.6million in the same period last year, while pre-tax losses were £31.7million, against £89.5million in 2011. Shares slid 4.25% at 284p.
Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth Scotland called on Cairn to abandon its operations off Greenland, however.
Corporate accountability campaigner Paul Daly said: “We urge shareholders to hold Cairn to account – not only on the financial risks of drilling in the Arctic, but the environmental risks too – and call on Cairn Energy to pull out of the Arctic and start investing in less risky, cleaner technologies.”