THE UK’s oil and gas regulator has awarded 24 new exploration licences to 13 separate companies in a move that has been welcomed by a trade body but condemned by climate campaigners.

It is the second tranche of the North Sea Transition Authority’s (NSTA) 33rd licensing round and follows 27 licences offered in the last allocation made in October last year.

British multinationals such as Shell and BP are among the companies which received licences in this latest round, with more expected to be confirmed in the coming months.

The 74 blocks and part-blocks offered this month are all in the Central North Sea, Northern North Sea and West of Shetland areas.

The remaining blocks, the majority in the Southern North Sea and East Irish Sea, will be offered when environmental evaluations have been finalised.

The 33rd licensing round opened in October 2022 with more than 900 blocks being made available.

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The application window closed in January last year and 115 bids were received from 76 companies.

It is believed the offshore oil and gas industry currently supports about 200,000 jobs in the UK.

A NSTA spokesperson said: “This latest batch brings total offers so far to 51, with more to come once the appropriate environmental checks are complete.

“These licences have the potential to make a significant contribution to the UK in energy production and economic benefits, and the NSTA will work alongside the licensees to help bring them into production as quickly as possible.”

Scottish Energy Secretary Neil Gray (below) said that while the Scottish Government recognises the role of North Sea oil and gas it is a "declining resource" that must be managed in line with the climate emergency. 

The National: Neil Gray

He said: “Our focus is on Scotland’s energy security needs, reducing emissions in line with our climate commitments and delivering affordable energy supplies whilst ensuring a just transition for our oil and gas workforce.

"In contrast, the UK Government, which has responsibility for offshore oil and gas licensing, has shown a total lack of focus on delivering a just transition for the sector.

“We have consistently called for the UK Government’s Climate Compatibility Checkpoint to be strengthened. Without transparent and robust tests, we do not have a clear evidence base to assess whether new oil and gas licences should be issued on a case-by-case basis.

“The UK Government should focus on its responsibilities and work with the Scottish Government to unlock Scotland’s enormous renewables potential.”

Graham Stuart, UK minister for Energy Security and Net Zero, said: “We will continue to need oil and gas over the coming decades, so it is common sense to make the most of our own resources – with domestically produced gas almost four times cleaner than importing liquefied natural gas from abroad."

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David Whitehouse, Offshore Energies UK’s (OEUK) CEO, said: “We all recognise that our energy mix must change and our sector is ramping up renewables and accelerating the drive to net zero.

“But this journey will take time. Meanwhile, our North Sea basin is naturally declining. We have over 280 oil and gas fields but by the end of the decade 180 of them will have stopped producing.

“We need the churn of licences for an orderly transition that supports jobs and communities across the country and meets our energy needs."

But Friends of the Earth Scotland’s climate campaigner, Alex Lee, said of today’s announcement: “This shameful decision to force through another licensing round shows the UK Government has given up any pretence that they have a shred of concern about climate breakdown.

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“As storms rage and temperatures soar, the UK Government is devoting its time and energy towards bolstering the obscene profits of major polluters rather than protecting the public they are meant to serve.”

“Plans for new oil and gas are impeding the transition to renewables, diverting time and resources from where it is needed. All credible climate science says that we must urgently stop burning the oil and gas that is choking our planet.

“Workers need a real transition plan that can help them shift to secure green jobs, not political stunts that aim to further lock households into a fossil fuel system that is failing to provide either security and affordability.

“Both Governments should instead be working tirelessly to move away from a fossil-fuelled energy system, which means they must reject new oil fields and hare-brained schemes to turn the North Sea into Europe’s carbon dumping ground.”