NORTH Sea oil and gas firms continue to face real pressure in spite of the rise in the crude price since 2016 but are adapting well to the challenges they face industry leaders reckon.

Oil & Gas UK chief executive Deirdre Michie said: “Challenging economic conditions continue to put real pressure on our industry’s businesses but we are leaner and fitter than we could have imagined just a few years ago.”

Her comments came as the industry body appointed the new heads of BP and Total’s operations, Ariel Flores and Jean-Luc Guiziou respectively, to its board.

Ms Michie said the men would bring an incredibly broad cross-section of experience to Oil & Gas UK.

She added: “Our Board’s collective knowledge and skills will help drive further improvements in maximising recovery from the UK North Sea, sustain high-value jobs and enable us to continue making a significant contribution to the country’s economy.”

Total and BP have underlined their belief in the long term potential of the North Sea in recent months.

After announcing in January that it had made two promising UK North Sea finds, BP said it wants to double production in the area to 200,000 barrels a day by 2020.

Total increased its exposure to the North Sea significantly through the $7.45 billion acquisition of Maersk Oil in August.

But both have shed jobs in response to the challenges posed by the sharp fall in the crude price since summer 2014.

BP has cut around 600 posts and sold off a raft of non core North Sea assets.

In May the company announced plans to cut its exploration and production workforce numbers by around three per cent globally, or 540, to maximise efficiency. It did not say where jobs would go.

In March Total said it would cut 250 jobs in Aberdeen as it integrated Maersk Oil before hiking that number to 300.

Confidence has increased in the North Sea in response to the rise in the crude price to around $75 per barrel amid moves by exporters to support the market.

Brent crude fell from $115/bbl in June 2014 to less than $30/bbl in January 2016.

In its latest report on the North Sea market Oil & Gas UK said the outlook for investment was brighter than it had been for years, with up to 16 developments set to win approval this year. However, some parts of the supply chain had yet to feel any benefit.

Separately North Sea-focused EnQuest has revealed it paid just $1.6 million tax (£1.2m) in respect of its UK operations last year, during which it started production from the giant Kraken field off Shetland.

The disclosure highlights the value of the tax breaks available to firms working in the North Sea.

In its annual results announcement in March EnQuest said it expects to achieve a material increase in production this year, which will help the firm generate significant amounts of cash.

The company netted $327m cash from operations last year.

It recorded a $66m accounting credit for tax, mainly due to the Ring Fence Expenditure Supplement, which was extended in 2014.

EnQuest has accumulated $3.1bn UK Tax losses.

It paid $2.3m UK licence fees last year but recovered $0.7m in respect of taxes.