The approval marks the first stage of a project to allow the production of gas from the Harding area and prolong the life of the field beyond 2015. The project, which comprises a new gas processing platform bridge-linked to the existing Harding platform, will have the potential to process and export gas at rates of up to 400 million standard cubic feet of gas per day.

The project would also involve the subsea tie-back of the Devenick field and a gas export pipeline to connect the new gas platform to the existing Brae gas transmission pipeline. The final project approval decision is expected to be made around the end of 2006.

Gordon Birrell, director and business unit leader for BP’s North Sea business, said: The development of the Harding Area Gas Project would not only help maximize the recovery of gas from the North Sea, but also extend the life of the Harding field beyond 2015. This would be an exciting new project for BP and the North Sea.