The UK’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has offered 25 licences for 111 blocks to 17 companies to enable more exploration and production in under-explored areas of the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) in its 29th Offshore Licensing Round.

In the first licensing round in two decades to focus solely on frontier areas of the Rockall Basin, Mid-North Sea High, and part of the East Shetland Platform, 24 companies had applied for 113 blocks when bidding closed in October 2016.

All areas generated interest, but two areas, Rockall and Mid-North Sea High, had been the focus of a UK Government-funded seismic acquisition programme in 2015 whose extensive new geophysical dataset was made openly available to interested parties. This factor was cited by companies as critical to stimulating their applications.

Andy Samuel, OGA Chief Executive, said: “The £20 million investment in new seismic for the Rockall and Mid-North Sea High areas, subsequent release of 40,000 kilometres of new and reprocessed data, combined with the work of the MER UK Exploration Task Force in developing the Innovate Licence, and a stable and competitive fiscal regime, has resulted in a number of quality applications in this frontier Licensing Round.

“While exploration activity has undoubtedly suffered as a result of the difficult market conditions,” Samuel continued “ we are now seeing highly encouraging success rates and finding costs on the UKCS. This is testament to the value of a robust and focused exploration strategy with commitment from industry, government and the OGA.

The potential licences do not convey permission for development activities such as drilling: these require further consents from the OGA, and will be subject to activity-specific Environmental Impact Assessment.

The upcoming 30th Offshore Licensing Round, expected in June 2017, will focus on mature areas and is expected to be the most significant offshore round in recent decades. An extensive number of prospects and undeveloped discoveries will be on offer. The 30th Round will be open for 120 days.

Photo: PGS