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Hurricane welcome in UK's Brexit storm

It is not surprising to find UK ministers and industry leaders making the most of an oil find and licensing round in the run up to Brexit being formally triggered.

The divided UK is in need of a tonic as it gives formal divorce notice to the European Union under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Despite the continuing acrimony in the UK about the split, few seriously expect the current direction of travel out of the EU can be blocked or reversed.

The arguments in parliament now centre on what kind of trading deal can be won with Europe to avoid crashing out of the single market and customs union without any safety net in place.

The Observer newspaper warned at the weekend that this kind of “hard Brexit” would be an “epic act of self harm”.

Wise heads still insist both sides will eventually compromise, as an acrimonious divorce would also harm the EU, which exports much more to the UK than it imports.

The oil industry has kept a low profile in the ongoing rows, with few companies willing to raise major concerns about life outside of the EU.

Indeed there is little reason to suppose life outside the EU would have a negative impact on the UK's North Sea tax, banking or safety regulations.

That relaxed attitude may start to change now that Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has raised the likelihood of a second referendum for Scottish independence. 

Scotland voted by a big majority to stay inside the EU and Sturgeon’s Scottish Nationalist Party believes the issue can be used to secure its desire to sever its own parliamentary connections with the UK. That would affect oil and gas, not least because the North Sea spoils would need dividing up.

However, the wider population is still nervous that the UK is set on a new course outside of the EU with no clear picture about what kind of new economy and country will be created.

No surprise, then, that every bit of good news from the oil industry is seized on as proof of better times to come.

Every bit of good news from the oil industry is seized on as proof of better times to come.

An interesting oil find by Hurricane Energy in the Greater Lancaster Area, 96 kilometres West of Shetland, plus the opening of the relatively small Flyndre oilfield,  became opportunities for celebration. They allowed UK Business Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, to boast of the “significant potential” of the UK's offshore waters.

Deidre Michie, chief executive of industry body Oil & Gas UK, called it “extremely exciting” news that came as optimism was rising again in the North Sea.

The Oil & Gas Authority, meanwhile, hailed the award of 25 licenses to explore for oil in frontier areas last week as “highly encouraging.” 

Certainly many of the big companies such as Shell, BP and ExxonMobil were among the successful applicants.

However, few wanted to remember that the last licensing round in 2015 had seen 175 awards or the fact that the most recent business outlook from Oil & Gas UK showed exploration activity “remained depressed” with only 22 wells drilled in 2016.

This is not surprising given $50 per barrel oil prices, the historically high cost of operating in the North Sea and the limited opportunities for big finds.

Hurricane thinks it has an elephant on its hands, but too many Brits fear their once mighty country may look in future more like a mouse.