The number of new offshore oil and gas exploration wells will shrink by about 15 percent in 2009, as lower crude prices curb investments and hit smaller oil and gas producers, according to data from Derrick Petroleum Services.

The general perception is that there was due to be a much sharper decline in 2009 due to the oil market volatility and the credit crunch, Upstream magazine quoted Derrick Petroleum Services' boss Yashodeep Deodhar as saying.

Deodhar said most of the well activity was driven by majors and national oil companies, with smaller players facing more severe circumstances.

Out of the 360 or so offshore wildcat wells to be drilled worldwide in 2009, Norway will be most active with nearly 50, followed by the United States, Britain, Brazil and Australia.

Derrick said that Norway's StatoilHydro and U.S. major ExxonMobil are due to participate in the biggest numbers of wells, followed by Brazilian Petrobras, France's Total and Royal Dutch Shell.