Covering 229 blocks or part-blocks, the licenses are expected to serve as a strong platform for future exploration and production across the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).

The work commitments under the licensing round include eight firm exploration/appraisal wells; nine firm new-shoot 3D seismic surveys; and 14 licenses move straight to field development planning.

Featuring a large inventory of prospects and undeveloped discoveries, the blocks that are offered in the licensing round are located in the Southern, Central and Northern North Sea, the West of Shetland and East Irish Sea.

According to estimates, the licensing round could unlock around 320 million barrels of oil equivalent (boe) of resources in about a dozen stranded undeveloped discoveries.

As part of the licensing round, Equinor has been awarded 9 new licenses including eight as operator.

Equinor UK exploration vice president Jenny Morris said: “We have drilled several exploration wells on the UKCS over the last few years, and this award puts us in a position to further develop our portfolio and utilize our strengths in a mature but prolific basin. This is in line with our strategy.”

In addition, the OGA estimates that the new licensees will take forward around 3.6 Bboe (mean-risked volume potential) of exploration prospectivity.

OGA CEO Dr Andy Samuel said: “Together we are building on the good momentum and collective efforts of industry, OGA and government over the last three years, with four projects already sanctioned this year and a healthy pipeline of 50 projects under consideration.”

The OGA is now considering launching 31st licensing round in summer 2018 to provide high-impact exploration opportunities in under-explored and frontier areas of the UKCS.

Oil & Gas UK chief executive Deirdre Michie said: “It’s great see so many companies submitting applications as this demonstrates another vote of confidence in exploring for oil and gas on the UK Continental Shelf.

“We now need these opportunities to be pursued with a sense of urgency to help unlock activity for our hard-pressed supply chain and ensure we start to mitigate the potential drop off in production post 2020.”