Oil and gas employees working in Europe are now the highest paid in the global industry – largely thanks to the UK government’s moves to encourage North Sea oil.

Average annual pay for energy staff in the region rose 14pc year on year to £72,714 in 2013, taking them above their peers in Australia/Oceania at £72,230, Africa at £70,780 and the US at £58,953.

The lowest paid region in the industry is the Middle East, where workers could last year expect to command an average of £54,209, a drop of 10pc on 2012 wages.

The findings came in research from Rigzone, the oil and gas industry recruitment website.

“Professionals in Europe have particularly benefitted from the record investment levels now being poured into the North Sea following the British Government’s moves last year to support deeper-sea exploration on the Continental Shelf,” said Dominic Simpson, an executive at Rigzone, EMEA and APAC.

“It reflects the ever-changing landscape of the global oil and gas market, which sees certain regions and professions benefitting at any given time. At present companies are pulling out all the stops to recruit engineers and subsea experts – preferably with North Sea experience.”

The news came after Sir Ian Wood on Monday delivered his report on the UK energy industry – the first such review for two decades.

Sir Ian, the former chairman of oil services business Wood Group, recommended setting up a new industry-funded regulator and in future awarding production licences on the basis of recovering the maximum amount of oil as a whole, rather than just from each individual licence block.

The reforms, which aim to cut red tape and improve the sharing of infrastructure and geophysical information, could be worth up to £200bn over the next 20 years and mean an extra 3bn to 4bn of barrels of oil are recovered from the North Sea.

Sir Ian’s findings could act as a template for developing other mature oil and gas fields around the world. The North Sea is thought to contain billions of barrels of oil that is increasingly difficult to extract, and with many platforms and pipelines coming to the end of their working lives, time is running out to get at them.

Although increases in pay across the European energy industry were broad-based, those joining the oil and gas industry saw the largest gains with first-year earnings averaging £57,650 in 2013, followed by professionals with two to five years of experience, who got £58,638 on average.

“There was a similar experience in North America, with pay rising for professionals early in their career,” said Mr Simpson. “It’s an investment in the future and representative of better, longer-term workforce planning by companies.”

For UK citizens, working in Europe’s energy patch was lucrative, with pay averaging £79,522 in 2013, well above the regional average and the global average of £61,294.

The fall in pay in the Middle East could be a sign that it is time for foreign workers hoping to make their fortune start looking for opportunities in new regions, rather than the global centre for oil production.

“There are many companies and organisations working in the Middle East to build strong, local oil and gas expertise,” said Mr Simpson. “As this continues to take hold, companies will be less dependent on expats creating more career opportunities for nationals.”

Despite the drop in average pay in the Middle East, just 9pc per cent of staff saw their individual compensation decline in 2013, compared to 66pc whose pay rose.

The sharpest decline in average compensation came for those with more than 20 years of experience, dropping 12pc year on year to an average of £75,920.

The data was derived from a survey ofnearly 21,000 energy industry staff worldwide.