The UK's energy security received a boost on Monday, after 27 new licences were offered in the North Sea, according to the trade body, Offshore Energies.
Announcing the licences, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) said they have been awarded in areas that have the potential to go into production more quickly than others.
It said the licences in the central and northern North Sea and west of Shetland have been awarded first, to give operators the opportunity to explore and develop oil and gas resources.
“Ensuring that the UK has broad options for energy security is at the heart of our work and these licences were awarded in the expectation that the licensees will get down to work immediately," said Stuart Payne, the chief executive at the NSTA.
“The NSTA will work with the licensees to make sure that where production can be achieved it happens as quickly as possible.”
Fuel import gap
The licences were welcomed by the trade body Offshore Energies UK, which reiterated that Britain would be a shining example of energy transition with "careful management and collaboration".
"This announcement is a boost for UK energy security and for the 200,000 people in jobs supported by the offshore energy sector," said Offshore Energies UK chief executive David Whitehouse.
"These are the very people we need to deliver reliable supplies of home-grown energy produced in the UK, for the UK.
"We all recognise that our energy system must change, and our industry includes companies that are expanding into renewables while using their expertise to pioneer ever cleaner energy production.
"The reality of the energy transition is that we need both oil and gas and renewables in an integrated system to protect the UK's energy needs over the coming years.
"Last year filling the fuel import gap cost the UK £117 billion. That's a lot of money spent supporting the economic growth of other producing countries."
Climate activists hit out at the new licenses, and pointed out that by continuing to grant permissions to drill for oil and gas in the North Sea, the UK would be "fuelling the climate crisis rather than helping to fix it".
Philip Evans at Greenpeace UK, said the organisation intends to "fight these licences in the courtroom" and will push to make licences a central issue in any upcoming election in Britain.
"We're mobilising voters to prioritise climate at the next election, because frankly we're all sick of these backward-facing policies."
Meanwhile, the UK's Energy Security Minister, Claire Coutinho, said the 27 licences would be a "welcome boost" for the UK offshore energy industry, which "contributes £16 billion to the economy each year".
“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."
According to Offshore Energies UK, there are 284 active oil and gasfields in the North Sea, but within seven years 36 per cent of them will have ceased production due to natural decline.
Oil and gas contribute around three quarters of the UK's domestic energy needs and official forecasts show that, as the country transitions, they will continue to play a vital role in Britain's energy mix, the NSTA said.