On 31st January 2024, the North Sea Transition Authority ("NSTA") announced that it has awarded a further 24 North Sea exploration licences following the 33rdLicensing Round. This is the second tranche of licences to be awarded since the application window closed on 12th January 2023.
The first tranche of licences awarded following the 33rdLicensing Round, comprising 27 licences, were issued on 30th October 2023 – see our previous blog here.
The licences awarded in the second tranche cover 74 blocks and part-blocks, all of which are located in the Central North Sea, Northern North Sea and West of Shetland areas. It has been reported that 17 companies have been awarded the licences, including:
- Northern North Sea: NEO, Equinor, Enquest and Apache Beryl;
- Central North Sea: NEO, ENI, Harvester, Dana Petroleum, BP, Ping, Shell, Anasuria Hibiscus, Parkmead, Painted Wolf, NSNR, Deltic Energy and Orcadian;
- West of Shetland: Equinor and Total.
The majority of the remaining blocks to be awarded are located in the Southern North Sea and the East Irish Sea. The NSTA has reported that the further licences will be awarded in the coming months, and will be offered when environmental evaluations, such as Habitat Regulation Assessment (HRA) Appropriate Assessments, have been finalised by OPRED.
The NSTA has stated that the licences "have the potential to make a significant contribution to the UK in energy production and economic benefits" and that the NSTA "will work alongside the licensees to help bring them into production as quickly as possible".
The NSTA has reported that internal analysis has shown that the average time between licensing and first production is now close to five years. Therefore, the licences that have been awarded now could be producing before the end of the decade.