A NEW licensing round for oil and gas exploration will boost both the UK’s economy and energy security, Business and Energy Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg has insisted.

The UK Government Minister spoke out as the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) began the 33rd round of offshore licences.

Licences are being made available for sectors of the North Sea – known as blocks – with the NSTA estimating that more than100 may be granted.

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Speaking ahead of the process getting underway, Rees-Mogg said: “Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine means it is now more important than ever that we make the most of sovereign energy resources, strengthening our energy security now and into the future. Ensuring our energy independence means exploiting the full potential of our North Sea assets to boost domestic production – recognising that producing gas in the UK has a lower carbon footprint than importing from abroad.

“That is why we welcome the launch of the NSTA’s new licensing round, which will help support highly skilled jobs across the UK’s energy industry, boosting both our energy security and our economy.”

His comments came as NSTA’s chief executive Andy Samuel insisted that security of supply should “not be in conflict with net zero” ahead of a new round of licensing in the North Sea.

Companies are being urged to apply for licences covering areas to the west of Shetland, in the northern North Sea, the central North Sea, the southern North Sea and the eastern Irish Sea. As the process gets underway, the NSTA is publishing data packs with summaries of key prospects and discoveries, hoping this will “stimulate exploration and encourage new opportunities”.

A total of 898 blocks and part blocks are being made available. In a bid to encourage production of new oil and gas supplies as quickly as possible, the NSTA has identified four “priority cluster areas” in the southern North Sea.