Britain launches North Sea frontier oil, gas licensing round

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s Oil and Gas Authority on Tuesday launched a licensing round for 1,766 offshore oil and gas blocks in the North Sea to attract investment in under-explored areas of the mature basin which is enjoying a revival of investor interest.

The blocks cover an area of 370,000 square kilometres (142,858 square miles) West of Scotland, the East Shetland Platform, the Mid North Sea High, South West Britain and parts of the English Channel, the OGA said.

“The OGA is opening up large areas of acreage to industry that offer the opportunity for high-impact exploration growth,” OGA Chief Andy Samuel said in a statement.

“The array of measures put in place by the OGA over the last two years, coupled with the UK’s highly attractive fiscal regime and openly-accessible data have laid the foundation for the ongoing revival in exploration activity across all areas of the UK Continental Shelf.”

Part of the areas on offer are covered by government-supported seismic data packages.

Companies can apply for the blocks until Nov. 7 and can expect to get a decision in the first half of next year. The next licensing round is planned for summer 2019 and will focus on mature areas.

The North Sea was one of the world’s first offshore basins, and has produced oil for more than four decades.

Although output in the basin has declined from a peak in the late 1990s, it has seen a revival after large projects such as the BP-operated, 130,000-barrels-per-day Quad 204 in the western Shetlands came on line.

The OGA estimates the UK Continental Shelf’s remaining recoverable hydrocarbon resources to be around 10 to 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent. Around 44 billion boe have been produced from the basin to date.

The new round for frontier acreage follows the 30th licensing round which saw 229 blocks being awarded in May to companies including Royal Dutch Shell RDSaL, BP BP.L and Norway's Equinor EQRN.OL, to smaller independents including Siccar Point, Chrysaor and Premier Oil PMO.L.

The OGA is also offering companies the opportunity to propose additional blocks in more mature areas for companies willing to commit to a substantial firm work programme, the OGA said, adding such submissions should be made before July 18.

Reporting By Shadia Nasralla. Editing by Jane Merriman