Offshore drilling levels in the North Sea dropped to their lowest level in six years during the first quarter of 2010, according to new figures

The North West Europe Review by accountants Deloitte reveals that exploration and appraisal drilling decreased by 33% in the first three months of 2010, compared with the same period last year.

The report also shows that appraisals reduced by 70% with only four appraisal wells spudded in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) during this period.

Exploration drilling has made a strong start in the first quarter of 2010 with twice as many exploration wells spudded compared with Q1 2009.

Deloitte’s Petroleum Services Group managing director Graham Sadler said drilling picked up in the latter part of the quarter owing to contractual obligations and an increased availability of rigs.

The southern North Sea has seen the highest levels of activity during the first quarter of the year with 42% of UKCS spuds in the area, followed by 25% in the East Irish Sea and 17% in the northern North Sea.

Sadler said that E&A drilling is not expected to increase rapidly over the next three years as access to finance and the development economics of any discoveries made are preventing the growth of E&A.