ENERGY firms in the North-East look set to benefit from the burgeoning oil and gas sector in 2013, with a key industry body predicting 20,000 jobs will be created in oil and gas over the next four years.

Following the prediction by Semta, NOF Energy, which represents 420 firms in the sector, has found in its annual survey that oil and gas will be the main priority for 78 per cent of its members this year, with markets strengthening and opening in countries including Australia, The Netherlands and South Africa.

In comparison, offshore renewables will be a high priority for 36 per cent of members, while nuclear will be a high priority for 32 per cent.

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The news comes as North-East firm Barrier Fire Protection, part of the Barrier Group, has secured in excess of £1.3m of new contracts since obtaining an exclusive UK licence to manufacturer fire protection units for oil and gas facilities.

The Wallsend-based company is the only UK manufacturer and supplier of the patented Benarx F Epoxy fire protection box, which are utilised to protect flanges, valves and instruments.

In the period since the licence was secured, Barrier has won a number of projects and is in line to secure further contracts with UK and international customers. Among the early projects secured was a significant contract to manufacturer 1,000 boxes for installation at the Teesside Gas Processing Plant.

The company, which also installs the units and provides on-going maintenance support, has also manufactured and installed more than 100 boxes for the Sullom Voe oil and liquefied gas terminal in the Shetland Islands.

Developed by Norwegian manufacturer, Benarx, which is part of the Beerenberg Group, the Benarx F Epoxy Box secures steel structures against the dangers of heat, fire and explosion.

Steve May, managing director of Barrier Fire Protection, said: “The UK market is already proving lucrative as companies continue to enhance their commitment to safety and site security, but we see much potential from overseas markets such as Papua New Guinea and West Africa where new facilities are being constructed that have to meet the latest, internationally-recognised safety standards.”

The region benefitting from the healthy oil and gas market is also reflected by Norwegian-owned oil services engineering firm Aker Solutions opening a second office in Stockton in November, screating 100 jobs over the next three years.

The news comes as NOF Energy’s Annual Survey found that the top international market served by supply chain companies was the United States, which has overtaken Norway as the number one export market with Brazil coming third.

New to the top five export markets are The Netherlands and Australia, with India, Venezuela, Kazakhstan and South Africa also moving up the rankings.

Australia is amongst the biggest growth markets for NOF Energy members and tops the list of future export markets, after moving from outside the top ten to inside the top five in 12 months.

Part of this interest has been fuelled by the recent NOF Energy visit to Perth, Western Australia, which featured a substantial delegation of UK firms keen to access the growing market. Another visit is planned for 2013.

Alongside the USA and Norway, Brazil remain a priority market for NOF Energy members as the country progresses with an incredible number of new oil and gas projects and actively seeks UK expertise to help it move forward. Asian markets being pursued by NOF Energy members include Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar and Vietnam.

NOF Energy’s annual survey also highlighted the challenges facing its membership. According to around a third of NOF Energy members, the biggest challenge they face is recruiting qualified personnel with the right skills.

George Rafferty, Chief Executive of NOF Energy, said: “The Government’s Energy Bill will begin to create some stability across the entire industry, which will see the offshore renewables and new nuclear sectors gain some momentum. Our survey shows, even though these new sectors will not form the majority of the work of our members, they are geared up, and have the ability to serve these emerging segments of the energy industry.

“While there is optimism about the growing opportunities in the energy sector there is the very real challenge of meeting the skills requirements of the industry. Many are investing in apprenticeships for the long-term, but in the near future employers need to look outside their sectors to find suitable candidates. This is why we have introduced Military2Energy, which will help companies take advantage of the thousands of military personnel leaving the armed forces that have transferable skills and competencies that can be honed for careers in the energy sector.”