THE UK Government has announced 27 new licence offers for oil and gas exploration in the North Sea.

In what is set to be only the first round of new licences, priority has been given to sites which have the potential to go into production within a shorter timeframe.

The sites are largely in the Central and Northern North Sea and West of Shetland area.

It is the 33rd round of oil and gas licencing in the UK. A total of 931 blocks and part-blocks were made available for application on October 7, 2022.

The North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) received 115 applications from 76 companies for 258 blocks and part-blocks before the close of applications on January 12, 2023.

The UK Government said the move is part of efforts to improve energy security in the UK, which include granting new licences and engaging with industry to scope out opportunities to reopen closed wells.

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However, environmental campaigners, researchers and MPs have questioned whether more domestic production will impact energy bills.

Earlier this year the NSTA granted the go-ahead for the large Rosebank oil field in the North Sea to be developed.

But the boss of Norwegian state-run energy company Equinor, who own the Rosebank site, made clear that the oil produced there has no guarantee of being sold to UK consumers.

“The oil goes to international markets,” he said. “It will be offloaded from the field.

“We currently can’t say where it will go.

“If the UK needs the Rosebank oil, it will actually get it.

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“That is pertaining to the open global market system which today ensures the UK receives much more oil and gas than it is producing on the UKCS (UK Continental Shelf) side.”

Still, Scotland Office minister John Lamont welcomed the announcement of new licences.

He said: “:"These new licences will help ensure the UK's energy security, which we have all seen is more important than ever, and reduce our need for imported energy.

"The UK Government is committed to net zero by 2050 and oil and gas will remain an important part of our energy mix on this journey.

“Today's announcement will also help to support thousands of skilled jobs in Scotland, unleash further opportunities for green technologies and grow our economy."

Lawyers from the environmental campaign groups Greenpeace and Uplift lost a High Court challenge over the plans to issue new licences earlier this month.

The National: Claire Coutinho said it was common sense to issue new oil and gas licences in the North SeaClaire Coutinho said it was common sense to issue new oil and gas licences in the North Sea

There are currently 284 offshore fields in production in the UK North Sea but environmentalists say reliance on fossil fuels for energy needs must end in order to limit damage from climate change.

Scottish Greens MSP Mark Ruskell said the UK was showing "disregard for future generations". 

He told The National: "“It is an environmental disaster. Every one of these reckless new licences is a further step towards climate breakdown.

"The UK government is showing a total disregard for future generations.

“In the last few months alone we have seen record temperatures and wildfires across Europe and terrible floods in communities across Scotland.

“There is no sustainable future in endless oil and gas drilling. We urgently need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and make an urgent and lasting investment in the green jobs and industries which are so vital to tackling the climate crisis.

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“These decisions will have an impact that endures long after the Tories have finally left Downing Street. This is a time for real and urgent climate action not doubling down on the policies that are already causing so much irreversible damage.”

But Claire Coutinho (above), the UK’s Energy Security Secretary, said granting more licences to fossil fuel companies was “common sense” despite the carbon emissions they will create.

“As recognised by the independent Climate Change Committee - we’ll continue to need oil and gas over the coming decades as we deliver net zero,” she said.

“It’s common sense to reduce our reliance on foreign imports and use our own supply – it’s better for our economy, the environment and our energy security.

“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.”