Licenses to explore for oil and gas and potentially develop almost 900 locations in the North Sea have opened to applicants.
More than 100 agreements could be awarded in the UK’s 33rd offshore oil and gas licensing round.
Some will be fast-tracked allowing seabed sites to be developed rapidly.
Oil and gas currently provide around 75% of the country’s energy consumption and official government forecasts expect the fossil fuels to remain important to the UK’s overall mix for the foreseeable future.
It comes as North Sea energy firms and British authorities reassess the security of energy infrastructure after “sabotaged” Nord Stream pipelines began spewing gas into the Baltic Sea.
On Thursday, the UK’s National Grid warned that the coutry faced a “challenging winter” with gas supplies at risk of falling short of demand.
Areas being offered include:
- Central North Sea – off the UK’s north-east coast, roughly parallel with Middlesbrough and Newcastle, to north of Aberdeen and Inverness
- Northern North Sea – north of the Scottish mainland and east of Shetland and Orkney
- West of Shetland – in the eastern Atlantic between the Shetland and Faroe Islands
- East Irish Sea – meaning Liverpool Bay, between the coasts of Cumbria, Lancashire, north Wales and the Isle of Man
Any new oil and gas production resulting from new licences would be “aligned with the UK’s climate objective of reaching Net Zero by 2050”, the Government said.
Climate activists from Just Stop Oil have been carrying out mass disruption events this month to coincide with the launch of the new round which they have called a “genocidal death project”.
“The climate crisis isn’t about Polar Bears or Puffins, beautiful though they are,” said a spokesperon for the group.
“It is about losing our rights, freedoms and heritage, everything that has been fought for and won, losing all of humanity’s creativity, ingenuity and love.
“Burning stuff has changed our world and we no longer know what will be the hottest summer, deepest flood or strongest storm, there is no ceiling. To continue pouring fuel on this fire, by expanding fossil fuel production can only be judged as an act of genocide, leaving us and our children to face a dark, bleak future.”
The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) said all developments undergo environmental and emissions assessments.
“The UK is forecast to continue importing natural gas as we transition to a fully renewables system and our North Sea gas has less than half the footprint of imported LNG,” said the organisation’s chief executive Dr Andy Samuel.
“Security of supply and net zero should not be in conflict. The industry has committed to halving upstream emissions by 2030 and investing heavily in electrification, carbon storage and hydrogen.
“Signs are promising so far – our first carbon storage round closed last month with 26 applications from 19 companies across all the areas we offered.”
Business and energy decretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine means it is more important than ever that “we make the most of sovereign energy resources”.
“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” he said.