Trade body Oil & Gas UK said the latest oil and gas exploration licence round is a vote of confidence in the UK Continental Shelf.
The UK’s Oil and Gas Authority said it received 96 applications for 239 blocks in the 30th offshore oil and gas exploration licence round.
Oil & Gas UK’s upstream policy director Mike Tholen said: “With 68 companies bidding, many of which we know to be new entrants, this response can be viewed as a vote of confidence in the UK Continental Shelf.
“It offers early signs that the £8 billion of merger and acquisition activity highlighted in our Economic Report is translating into activity in the basin.
“This will help realise as much of the 2-6 billion barrels of yet to find potential, particularly given the maturity of this licensing round and its large inventory of prospects and undeveloped discoveries.
“Whilst this reflects industry’s growing optimism, our interests now turn to how many awards will be given, and the commitments which follow.”
The results of the licence round followed the news that BP agreed to sell a package of its interests in the Bruce assets in the North Sea to Serica Energy plc for up to £300 million and the agreement by Grangemouth refinery operator Ineos to take a majority share in two exploration licenses in the Northern Gas Fields West of Shetland.
Oil & Gas UK CEO Deirdre Michie said the deal announcements were “very good news indeed for the UK’s offshore oil and gas sector.”
Michie said: “After three difficult years, they reinforce the gathering strength of belief in the future of the UK North Sea as we move slowly out of the downturn caused by the oil price slump.
“We believe there are up to 20 billion barrels of oil and gas still to recover from Britain’s offshore regions …
“The complexity of deals like the BP Serica one announced today is indicative of the effort the industry has to make to ensure that the right assets are in the right hands for further development and extending field life.”