Britain has signed a landmark deal with Norway which paves the way for work to begin on "Britpipe" - a massive gas pipeline linking the two countries.
The 'Britpipe' will supply one fifth of the UK's gas
Three North Sea firms - Royal Dutch/Shell, Exxon Mobil and Norway's Statoil - signed the agreements which will see Norwegian natural gas brought into the UK.
The pipeline will allow the UK to import 20% of its gas needs for at least 10 years after it comes online in 2007.
The move comes as the UK prepares to become a net gas importer after years of being self-sufficient.
A recent Government study estimated that, as a result of the country's shrinking reserves, as much as 90% of its gas will have to be imported by 2020.
The Department of Trade and Industry hailed the deal as a "substantial step" towards addressing the country's gas needs.
Shell Exploration and Production in Europe chief executive Tom Botts added the deal would help safeguard the UK's energy supplies.
"I believe this is the first of many future cross-border solutions arising out of increased co-operation between the UK and Norway," he added.
Energy minister Stephen Timms added: "The `Britpipe' project is very important to the UK as we move into a new era where we are dependent on net gas imports."
Britpipe will be used to pump wet gas from Norway's Ormen Lange field to the St Fergus gas terminal in Aberdeenshire for processing.
Wet gas contains both the dry gas used in households and liquids used by the chemical industry.
The landmark deal will also help to safeguard more than 500 jobs in Scotland - 120 at the St Fergus site, and more than 450 at Mossmorran Natural Gas Liquids plant in Mossmorran, Fife, where the liquid gas will be treated.