OIL and gas production over the next three decades could be 2.8 billion barrels higher than previously anticipated.

While crude oil production fell by 2.6 per cent between 2016 and 2017, a new report from the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) said that last year production in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) had been “maintained at a level not seen since 2011”.

The industry body has now revised upwards its projection for the North Sea over the period 2016 to 2050 to a total of 11.7 bn barrels of oil equivalent (boe).

That is 2.8 bn boe higher than had been forecast before leading industry figure Sir Ian Wood produced a report on maximising yield in the North Sea in 2014.

A new report on oil and gas production and expenditure from the OGA said the industry in the UK had produced 1.63 million boe a day in 2017

This was despite the closure of the Forties pipeline system in December, which was shut down for three weeks after a crack was discovered.

Without this, production would have risen in 2017.

Overall operating costs in the sector rose by 3 per cent in 2017 to £6.9 bn – although this was still 27 per cent lower than the 2014 high.

However capital expenditure fell for the third year in a row, to £5.6 bn, and is expected to fall for the “foreseeable future”, the OGA said.

The report stressed its projections were “best estimates rather than a definitive prediction of future UK production of oil and gas”, as future North Sea production was “dependent on a number of different factors”.

But it said: “The future potential of the basin could be boosted further through investment, exploration successes and resource progression. The OGA is supporting this through emphasis on the revitalisation of exploration, the implementation of area plans and promoting the development and adoption of new technologies.”

OGA chief executive Andy Samuel said: “The extra 2.8 billion barrels identified shows the future potential of the basin which could be boosted further through investment and exploration successes. 2017 continued to be a productive year and production levels are set to rise in 2018 as more new fields come on-line.

“The OGA continues to work in partnership with industry and government in maximising the economic recovery of our resources and in pursuit of the considerable prize highlighted by Vision 2035.”