The UK North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) has awarded 27 oil and gas exploration licences in the British North Sea as part of the first batch of the country’s 33rd Oil and Gas Licensing Round.

According to the oil and gas regulator, the awarded licences are located in regions that have been given priority due to their potential for expedited production compared to other areas.

Shell was awarded the most licences while the other successful bidders include Equinor, Aker BP, TotalEnergies, BP, and Ithaca Energy among others.

The licensing round was launched in October 2022. A total of 931 blocks and part-blocks were made available for application by the NSTA.

Altogether, when the application window closed on 12 January 2023, the NSTA received a total of 115 applications from 76 companies, covering 258 blocks and part-blocks. This marked the highest level of participation since the induction of Innovative Licenses during the 29th Round in 2016/17.

UK Energy Security Secretary Claire Coutinho said: “As recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee – we’ll continue to need oil and gas over the coming decades as we deliver net zero

“It’s common sense to reduce our reliance on foreign imports and use our own supply – it’s better for our economy, the environment and our energy security.

“These new licences are a welcome boost for the UK industry, which already supports around 200,000 jobs and contributes £16bn to the economy each year – while advancing our transition to low-carbon technologies, on which our future prosperity depends.”

Apart from the 27 licences that have been awarded, an additional six blocks that were prepared for offering have been incorporated into five existing licenses.

All 258 blocks that received applications underwent the initial Habitat Regulation Assessment (HRA). Furthermore, the NSTA said that the licences being granted have been determined not to necessitate further assessment.

The licenses, situated in the Central and Northern North Sea, as well as West of Shetland, were prioritised for initial allocation to enable operators to proceed with their oil and gas exploration and development plans. In recent years, the time taken from licence award to production on an average has been approximately five years, said the regulator.

The NSTA has disclosed that there are currently 284 offshore fields in operation in the UK North Sea, with an anticipated total production of approximately 5.25 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) expected through the year 2050.