Scottish oil firm Cairn Energy said yesterday it would get to work on its first operated exploration well in UK waters later this year.
Bosses at Edinburgh-headquartered Cairn also said the company intended to spearhead more North Sea exploration campaigns in future.
Operations on the Ekland well are slated to begin in the central North Sea in the third quarter of 2018.
Cairn holds a 45% stake in Ekland, Zennor Petroleum has 30% and Petrogas International 25%.
North Sea production for Cairn currently comes from non-operated stakes in the Kraken and Catcher fields.
Kraken, located about 80 miles east of Shetland, produced first oil in June 2017, while Catcher came on stream in December.
Cairn has a 29.5% stake in Kraken and a 20% interest in Catcher.
Chief executive Simon Thomson said: “When we entered the North Sea we took the decision to go into non-operated assets and made acquisitions.
“But Cairn’s reputation is that of a very effective operator. It’s a natural progression for us to start accessing exploration wells.”
Mr Thomson said the company was “always looking” at potential acquisitions.
But he said Cairn was “comfortable” with its current levels of interest in both Kraken and Catcher, operated by EnQuest and Premier Oil respectively.
Hungary’s MOL Group is thought to be mulling the sale of its UK North Sea portfolio, which includes a 20% non-operated interest in Catcher. Media reports have said EnQuest is attempting to sell 20% of its stake in Kraken.
Cairn also revealed it was back in the black last year, reporting pre-tax profits of £185million – a vast improvement on a deficit of £108million in 2016.
In addition, the company said it had sent out tender invitations for a floating production, storage and offloading vessel and subsea infrastructure for the SNE field development off Senegal.
And in an update on a long-running tax dispute in India, the firm reiterated that a final arbitration hearing will take place in August.
The dispute started in 2014 when Cairn was accused of not paying taxes owed following the formation of its Indian subsidiary. Cairn has challenged the claim.
Meanwhile, North Sea oil and gas company Spirit Energy said yesterday it had appointed EnQuest’s former chief operating officer as its technical and HSE director.
Neil McCulloch left EnQuest by “mutual agreement” at the end of last year. He played a key role in the development of Kraken.