The oil and gas industry could be set for a year of mergers and acquisitions following a rapid fall in prices, it has been forecast.
Business consultants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) said 2015 might even see the first “hostile takeover” in the sector in living memory.
The oil price has fallen from 115 US dollars (£73) a barrel in the middle of this year to around 60 dollars (£38).
Teams working at PwC set out their top five predictions for the year ahead against such a backdrop.
They said there is little expectation of a rapid rebound and warned that many commentators are assuming prices could remain low for much of 2015.
The company said the industry needs to adapt next year to “this new level of volatility” and described it as “uncertain times” for the estimated 440,000 employed in the sector.
Drew Stevenson, PwC’s UK energy deals leader, said: “Oil prices remaining at the current level for a sustained period will light the touchpaper for mergers and acquisitions in 2015.
“As the UK industry positions itself for a more uncertain future, we expect to see deal activity levels pick up throughout the year ahead.”
The industry could also be “increasingly cash-constrained” with new debt coming at a cost, and existing debt coming under increased scrutiny, the firm said.
Matt Alabaster, PwC’s UK energy deals strategy leader, added: “While 70 US dollar oil is not the end of the world, coming after five years of sustained high prices it has caused a maelstrom in the industry, with firms now having to heavily focus on cash and costs like never before.
“Throughout 2015, we could see some bad headlines about very good companies being hit by factors outside their control – the UK industry is not alone in having to adapt to this environment.”
Tom Greatrex, shadow energy minister and MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, said: “This report is the latest evidence to suggest the falling oil price will have a significant impact on our economy in Scotland. Oil revenues are, by record, volatile and, by definition, declining.
“Even before the dramatic recent fall in oil prices, Sir Ian Wood’s review confirmed that the UK portion of the North Sea is a mostly mature basin and continuing extraction of oil is becoming economically marginal.
“That is why it is urgent now that the Wood review’s key recommendations are implemented and a new era of collaborative working introduced in order to maximise the ability to sustain jobs in the North Sea.”