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By John McGarrity
LONDON (Reuters) - British utility Centrica <CNA.L> has started pumping gas from the Rhyl field in the Irish Sea, becoming the first new supply source to be brought on stream in the region for a decade, the company said on Tuesday.
Centrica, which is the largest supplier of gas to domestic customers in Britain, said that production from the Rhyl field in Morecambe Bay would help to secure 400 jobs in north-western England and enhance energy security.
The utility estimates that proven and probable reserves at the field are 1.13 to 2.26 billion cubic metres (bcm), meaning that Centrica's Morecambe Bay operations should continue into the next decade.
The South Morecambe gas field is one of Britain's largest. At their peak, Centrica's East Irish Sea operations are able to supply about 8 percent of the country's household gas demand, the company said.
Britain consumes about 90 bcm of gas annually, but imports from continental pipelines and liquefied natural gas (LNG) shipments are expected to rise as North Sea production declines to about half of domestic demand.
A prolonged spell of cold weather, sparse deliveries of LNG and dwindling supplies of stored gas in March helped to push British gas prices towards record highs.
However, gas prices eased to a two-week low below 80 pence per therm on Tuesday because of new deliveries of LNG, healthy supply from North Sea pipelines and forecasts of milder weather.
Gas from the Rhyl field will be produced through Centrica's existing North Morecambe platform, then come onshore by pipeline for processing at its Barrow terminal complex.
(Editing by David Goodman)