Offshore exploration and appraisal activity in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) fell by 35% in 2009, according to new figures released by Deloitte.
Deloitte's latest North West Europe Review, which provides information about drilling and licensing in the UKCS, said that 78 exploration and appraisal wells were spudded in 2009, compared with 121 in 2008.
The number of wells spudded in the fourth quarter of 2009 was 13, which represented a 38% drop compared with the same period last year, and a 54% drop compared with the third quarter of 2009.
The report, produced by Deloitte's Petroleum Services Group (PSG), said exploration wells dropped by nearly 50% in 2009, while appraisals fell by 25%.
The Northern North Sea recorded the sharpest drop in activity of 65% in 2009 compared with 2008, followed by the Southern North Sea with a 60% drop and the Central North Sea with a 47% drop.
The West of Shetlands and the Atlantic margin, however, recorded a 23% rise in drilling activity.
PSG MD Graham Sadler said the figures reflect the difficulties faced by the industry during 2009 in terms of macroeconomic conditions and industry-specific issues such as rig availability and oil price volatility in the first half of 2009.
"Some drilling success around West of Shetlands and the Atlantic margin has stimulated a modest regional increase in activity," said Sadler.
Deloitte Aberdeen senior partner Derek Henderson said last year companies needed to prioritise cost control and implement cash-bolstering strategies to ensure they achieved as strong a financial position as possible during the economic downturn.
"Although 2010 has heralded a much more positive outlook, the economy remains fragile and many energy firms will continue to implement those strategies that have served them well during 2009," Henderson said.