The Office for National Statistics (ONS), said profitability among the UK's "continental shelf" companies - mainly off-shore exploration firms - plunged to 0.2 per cent in the first quarter. This is the lowest since the ONS started calculations in 1997, and well off the highs of more than 50 per cent recorded as recently as 2011.
The stats body calculates profitability by measuring "economic gain, or profit, as a percentage of the capital used to produce it".
Low oil prices were to blame for the troubles facing the sector, with investment predicted to have dried up in the first three months of the year and revenues under pressure. The ONS said oil prices in sterling had fallen by 32 per cent between the first quarters of 2015 and 2016.
Profitability at UK businesses, excluding banks and the financial sector, however, ticked up in the first three months of the year despite the slowdown in growth and heightened volatility on the stock markets.
Private sector companies ran a net rate of return of 12.2 per cent between January and March, up from 12 per cent at the end of the last year, according to figures from the ONS.
The services sector continues to be more profitable than manufacturing, returning 18.2p in profit for every £1 of capital spent, compared to 12.7p for manufacturers.