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Energy / New oil and gas licences offered

The Clair Ridge platform west of Shetland. Photo: BP

A TOTAL of 27 new oil and gas licences have been offered to developers, including the west and east of Shetland.

The UK Government’s North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) said these are in areas which have been prioritised because they have the potential to go into production more quickly than others.

But the news of the latest batch of licenses does not sit well with campaigners who feel the focus should instead be on renewables.

The 33rd oil and gas licensing round was launched in October 2022 with 931 blocks and part-blocks made available for application.

The NSTA received 115 applications from 76 companies for more than 250 blocks/part-blocks.

More blocks will be offered subject to additional environmental checks.

In addition to the 27 new licences, six more blocks which were also ready to be offered have been merged into five existing licences.

There are currently 284 offshore fields in production in the UK North Sea and an estimated 5.25bn boe (barrel of oil equivalent) in total is projected to be produced by 2050.

NSTA chief executive Stuart Payne said: “Ensuring that the UK has broad options for energy security is at the heart of our work and these licences were awarded in the expectation that the licensees will get down to work immediately.

“The NSTA will work with the licensees to make sure that where production can be achieved it happens as quickly as possible.”

The government’s energy security secretary Claire Coutinho said: “These new licences are a welcome boost for the UK industry, which already supports around 200,000 jobs and contributes £16 billion to the economy each year – while advancing our transition to low-carbon technologies, on which our future prosperity depends.”

But campaign group Uplift questioned the level of benefit new oil development will actually bring to the UK.

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Executive director Tessa Khan said: “New North Sea licences won’t make a scrap of difference to the lives of millions of people who can’t afford to heat their homes this winter, nor for our energy security more generally.

“We know that there is next to no gas left in the North Sea – the hundreds of new licences issued in the last 13 years under the Conservatives have so far provided the UK with a grand total of just over a fortnight’s worth of gas. These new approvals will be no different.

“Most of what’s left in the North Sea is oil, and we export 80 per cent of that which we then have to buy back like every other consumer. There’s no advantage to it being our oil, and these licences will likely take decades before any oil comes out of the ground.

“On the other hand, this government’s obsession with getting every last drop out of the North Sea is music to the ears of oil and gas executives, who are making billions at our expense, not to mention the planet’s.

“We urgently need a government that has real solutions to our unaffordable energy system, and that focuses on lowering bills by insulating homes and supporting our potentially huge domestic renewables industry.”

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