Investment in North Sea oil and gas production is expected to pick up significantly this year.

Energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie has forecast that 14 new fields with the capacity to produce 438m barrels of oil equivalent will be brought on stream by the industry in 2014.

However, the Edinburgh-based firm cautions that the next 12 months will be “pivotal” for the UK’s major energy producing basin due to the Scottish independence referendum in September and the final recommendations of the Wood Review, which could lead to significant change in how the industry is regulated.

Investment in the area last year reached its highest levels since the boom years of the 1970s, according to a report by the company.

“We anticipate £21.3bn will be spent on capital investment across 2013 and 2014,” said Lindsay Wexelstein, head of UK Upstream Research for Wood Mackenzie, which released its annual UK oil and gas review.

Despite the positive outlook provided by investment and new production coming on stream, exploration for undiscovered oil reserves in the North Sea is falling behind, signalling that the offshore region is entering the final stages of its lifespan.

“Due to poor exploration performance in recent years, capital investment is unlikely to be sustained at the current high levels beyond 2015,” said Ms Wexelstein.

More than 40bn barrels of oil equivalent have already been produced from the North Sea and estimates of remaining reserves are between 12bn and 24bn, based on what may be viable to extract at current oil prices. The Government appointed Sir Ian Wood last year to develop proposals to maximise its potential. However, the region’s long-term prospects arguably hang on whether Scotland remains in the UK.

“One of the most significant events to take place next year will be the Scottish independence referendum in September, the results of which could ultimately lead to a division of oil and gas assets between Scotland and the rest of the UK,” said Ms Wexelstein.