UK regulator awards 27 oil, gas exploration licenses

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s oil and gas regulator, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), on Monday awarded 27 new hydrocarbon exploration licenses, even as climate activists criticise the government for allowing fresh drilling.

The licensing round, the first of its kind since 2019, was launched around a year ago and received 115 applications from 76 companies. Some North Sea producers shunned the round after Britain introduced a windfall tax on the sector.

Among the successful bidders to drill for new oil and gas in the British North Sea are Shell – with the most licenses, Equinor, DNO , Aker BP, Ithaca, TotalEnergies and BP.

Greenpeace had tried to legally stop the licensing round by arguing that the authorities’ criteria failed to take into account greenhouse gas emissions from the produced oil and gas at the point of combustion.

But London’s High Court ruled against Greenpeace’s challenge this month, with the group planning to appeal. The government says new oil and gas exploration is consistent with its target to become a net zero carbon economy by 2050.

From an output of around 4.4 million barrels of oil equivalent per day – more than OPEC heavyweight Iraq – at the start of the millennium and a position as a net exporter, Britain currently produces around 1.3 million barrels of oil equivalent per day (boed).

This is set to decline to less than 200,000 boed by 2050, according to the NSTA. An exploration license does not necessarily result in a producing field.

(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Hugh Lawson)