ENERGY giant BP has announced the sale of its Wytch Farm oilfield in a deal worth a staggering $610 million.

The Purbeck plant, the largest onshore oilfield in Western Europe, has been sold to Perenco UK Ltd, the British arm of an Anglo-French independent oil and gas company with interests in 16 countries.

It is expected that all employees based at the Wytch Farm plant will continue to work for the new company.

An immediate $500m payment has already been made, with a further $55m to be paid on completion, expected at the end of 2011.

The remaining $55m is contingent on submission of Perenco’s future development of the Beacon field and on oil prices in 2011-13.

BP sold off Wytch Farm – which taps into three separate oil reservoirs under Poole Harbour and Poole Bay – so that it can invest more capital into its North Sea operations.

Trevor Garlick, regional president of BP North Sea, said: “The North Sea region is a very important area for BP and we will sustain a significant business here for the long term.

“We are currently investing around $4bn per annum of capital and operating expenditure, which includes four major new field development projects in the UK and two in Norway.”

Wytch Farm, which is sited in one of the most environmentally-sensitive areas of the UK, produces around 15,000 barrels of oil a day.

However, at its peak production was closer to 110,000 barrels.

Mr Garlick said: “We are pleased to have reached this agreement with Perenco.

“Perenco is committed to investing in and developing Wytch Farm beyond BP’s plans, ultimately providing a longer-term future for the asset and the people who work there.

“Ensuring continued safe operation of Wytch Farm will continue to be our priority as we support employees through the transition process which we will now follow.”