Bids to explore for oil and gas in areas including the North Sea have risen by almost 50% since 2016, according to new figures.
The Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) said 36 applications covering 164 blocks in frontier areas of the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) had been received in the 31st Offshore Licensing Round.
The OGA said “strong and diverse” interest had come from “multinationals to micro businesses”.
The bids will now be assessed.
Some areas, such as the East Shetland Platform, have never been previously licensed.
Following technical evaluation of the applications, awards to successful applicants are expected to be made in the second quarter of 2019.
However, the OGA said it remained concerned by low levels of drilling activity.
‘Step up efforts’
Dr Nick Richardson, head of exploration and new ventures at the OGA, said: “This is an encouraging set of applications, demonstrating that interest in UK offshore licensing opportunities has increased since the 29th frontier round held in 2016, with an almost 50% increase in the number of blocks applied for.
“The OGA has received applications on some blocks on the East Shetland Platform which have never been previously licensed.
“Whilst the UKCS offers a rich and attractive set of exploration and field development opportunities, the OGA continues to be concerned by low levels of drilling activity.
“We are encouraging industry to step up its efforts to explore for new resources, providing enhanced security of domestic supply in the future.”
Earlier this month, the OGA said the UK had enough oil reserves to sustain production for the next 20 years and beyond.
The report estimated overall remaining recoverable reserves and resources of up to 20 billion barrels.