Jobs secured by gas success

Mike Astell, regional director of Centrica Energy
Mike Astell, regional director of Centrica Energy
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The first new gas field in a decade will be developed off the Lancashire coastline next year, securing 400 new jobs in the county.

Centrica, the parent company of British Gas which came under fire on Wednesday after it announced its profits had risen 11 per cent, said its successful year meant it was looking to develop the new field in Morecambe Bay.

Its new Rhyl gas field, off the coast of Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, is to come on stream in the coming weeks.

The company reported its operations across its oil and gas business increased profitability by 20 per cent to £919m from £769m in 2011.

Regional director Mike Astell said: “With Rhyl due to come on stream in the coming weeks we are extending production from Morecambe Bay past 2020, meaning that we can secure more gas for the UK as well as 400 jobs in the local area.

“At the same time we are continuing to invest in our Barrow terminals.

“As we move into a new phase of operations in the East Irish Sea, we will continue to invest in people, demonstrating our commitment to local community while ensuring our business is equipped with the next generation of innovators, leaders and engineers.”

Centrica said its rise in profits at British Gas residential came after last year’s colder-than-normal weather saw gas use leap 12 per cent and in spite of a one per cent fall in customer accounts to 15.7 million in 2012.

The results are likely to raise questions over the fairness of energy bill increases after British Gas raised tariffs by six per cent for around 8.4m households at the end of last year.

Directors from the company appeared on television this morning to defend the results.

Chris Jansen, managing director of services and commercial at Centrica, said a colder winter last year contributed to the rise in profits.

He told Daybreak: “I completely understand our profits announced today will create a reaction with customers.

“I think it’s important to remember that in 2011 it was a very, very mild winter ... so the country used a lot less gas, and actually our profits in 2011 were 20% down on 2010.”

Asked whether customers would face further price increases, Mr Jansen replied: “It’s impossible for me to say that, that’s like looking at a crystal ball.

“The general trend for energy prices are prices are increasing. All we say to customers is let’s do what we can to control energy bills.

“Prices might be going up but bills don’t need to if we control our energy use.”

Shadow energy and climate change secretary Caroline Flint said it was time for a “complete overhaul of our energy market”.

“People will not understand why, just a few months ago, British Gas claimed they had no option but to put up their prices when now it looks like they’re making huge profits on the back of spiralling bills for hard-pressed consumers,” she added.

Consumer Focus called for greater transparency between profits and prices earlier this month after utility giant EDF revealed a £1.7bn earnings haul just two months after raising bills for 3.7m British households.