Energy giant Centrica plans to spend hundreds of millions of pounds in the Southern North Sea over the next few years in the wake of a successful project off Norfolk.

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In an exclusive interview with the EDP, Jim Craig, Centrica Energy Upstream’s deputy managing director, said the company was already working on five ongoing projects off the UK’s south-eastern coast, with more projects planned.

And in a boost to jobs for the region, he said it made sense to use local suppliers to work on the projects.

The production and exploration arm of British Gas owner Centrica Energy acquired the pioneering oil and gas company Venture Productions in 2009 in a bid to ensure the energy it sells comes from its own supplies, rather than the UK’s volatile and illiquid wholesale gas market.

Mr Craig said: “I could say without any shadow of a doubt that we will be spending several hundred million [in the southern North Sea]. We spent £1.6bn in capital in 2011 mainly upstream oil and gas.

“Of the projects that are ongoing five are in the southern North Sea and we will be spending several hundred million in the coming three to four years in the southern North Sea in terms of what we are looking to bring to sanction and the projects that are ongoing.

“There’s a lot of investment and there are a lot of exciting projects.”

His optimism about Centrica’s future in the southern North Sea (SNS) comes as the company has successfully installed a new gas platform 80km off the coast of Norfolk.

Mr Craig said: “Ensign is just one of a number of projects that is ongoing at the moment. We have got one well in production on Ensign at the moment. A second well has reached the end, so we are going to put in pipes to get it into production. That is a great milestone for us.”

Other projects include a new platform in the York field and in the Seven Seas area which is currently being developed via a subsea tie-back to the BP-operated Newsham and West Sole fields.

He also said the company was hoping to approve the Cygnus development which is likely to involve a manned platform as a hub, with tie-backs from normally unattended installations.

He said: “We are not there yet. If the right things fall into place then we will move forward to Cygnus, which is the biggest gas development in the southern North Sea in years.

“It’s not a new area, it’s a mature basin. The easy stuff has been done, but that doesn’t mean there is not a lot more out there.”

He added: “We’ve got a huge technology leap that has taken place in the last decade. A huge amount of development is profitable in the southern North Sea and that is reflected by Centrica and others who continue to invest and acquire other assets from others in the southern North Sea.”

The energy industry is often criticised for not using local companies, but Mr Craig said they would use local companies where possible.

He said: “Where we can use a local company then we will. It doesn’t make sense to bring people in from Aberdeen to the East of England, but it depends on what capabilities are needed.

“If you look at a lot of the companies that work with us like Petrofac, those people are typically based or have a base in Norfolk and as long as their business in the SNS those companies will be there and certainly we would encourage that.”

“We have spent a lot of money in the SNS at the moment. We continue to see it as an area where we see value and like many other companies we will buy and we may even sell things from time to time as we try to focus on our most attractive opportunities to develop.

“We do see the SNS as an attractive place to work and we expect to see that input in the Norfolk and Suffolk economy for many years to come and we hope to play a role in doing that.”

See the website on Saturday for a special report

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