NORWEGIAN energy giant Statoil has announced that a new discovery in Scotland’s North Sea waters could contain between 25 million and 130m barrels of oil.

The latter figure would be worth up to £5 billion at today’s prices.

The group said the find, in the Verbier sidetrack well in the outer Moray Firth, is proof that “there could be significant remaining potential” in the basin.

Jez Averty, senior vice-president of exploration in Norway and the UK at Statoil, said: “This is an encouraging result for Statoil and the UK team.

“We have proven oil in good-quality sands with good reservoir properties, but significant work remains, most likely including appraisal, to clarify the recoverable volumes and to refine this range.”

The group said it will continue to assess the data and plan further appraisals to determine the exact size of the discovery, as well as its commercial potential.

Jenny Morris, Statoil’s vice-president for exploration in the UK, said: “Our aim this summer was to develop Statoil’s UK position through testing three independent prospects ranging in geological risk and with a potential impact on our portfolio.

“While the results of the other two exploration wells were disappointing, we are convinced of the remaining, high-value potential on the UK continental shelf and the Verbier result certainly gives us the confidence and determination to continue our exploration efforts.”

The discovery comes just weeks after research claimed Britain’s oil industry could be entering its final decade of production.

A study of output from offshore fields estimates about 10 per cent of the nation’s original recoverable oil and gas remains, according to the University of Edinburgh’s School of GeoSciences. If the predictions are correct, the UK would soon have to import all the oil and gas it needs, the university’s scientists warned.

North Sea oil and gas exploration activity has not been at a lower level since the 1970s. Cheaper and more easily accessed resources in other oil producing areas have hit it badly.

But both Royal Dutch Shell and BP, the largest oil groups in the UK and which started the North Sea

industry, say they are optimistic about the region. Statoil’s major new find will add to that renewed confidence in the industry.