LONDON -- Over £330 million is to be invested by the likes of BP (LSE:BP) (NYSE:BP) and Royal Dutch Shell (LSE:RDSB) (NYSE:RDS-B) in a drilling program focusing on a "monster" oil field to the west of Shetland.

The consortium -- which also includes ConocoPhillips and Chevron -- announced that drilling has already begun on the first of five wells planned over the next two years in the field at Clair. A further seven wells may be drilled if the appraisal program is successful.

With the giant North Sea field of Clair known to hold 8 billion barrels of oil, a third phase could take production beyond 2050 for the BP-led consortium, as BP North Sea regional president Trevor Garlick commented: "This is a major milestone and a further big commitment to the west of Shetland by BP and its co-venturers. If successful, the appraisal program could pave the way for a third phase of development at Clair -- this is now a real possibility."

The news comes as the U.K. government reveals a new strategy to aid the oil and gas exploration industry, to be unveiled by U.K. Business Secretary Vince Cable in Aberdeen -- the "oil capital of Europe" -- who stated:

"I want us to consider what barriers are stopping British companies bidding for and winning work in the North Sea. This is an expanding industry. We can either help create more jobs and opportunities across the U.K. if we get this right, or see work going overseas if not."

With around 400,000 people employed in oil and gas, the government hopes that further investment in the sector will help develop the U.K.'s supply chain, with new tax breaks announced over the last few years helping to repair the damage from huge rises in 2011.

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