The UK’s Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) has launched the 29th Offshore Licensing Round (29th Round), with 1,261 blocks on offer to support OGA’s objective of maximising economic recovery (MER) from the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).

The 29th Round signals the launch of the ‘Innovate Licence’ concept developed by MER UK Exploration Board, an industry task group focused on increasing flexibility in the UKCS licensing regime. It allows for greater collaboration between licensees and OGA to design an optimal work programme. This will improve phasing of activity, rental fees and competency tests, and implements a stage-gate process for better monitoring of progress from the previous licensing regime, according to OGA.

This latest round allows companies to apply for new licences to drill for offshore oil and gas in a number of frontier areas of the UKCS, some of which were part of last year’s £20 million Government-funded seismic campaign to target underexplored areas and increase data coverage in the Rockall Trough and Mid-North Sea High regions. The freely-available data packages were downloaded more than 3,000 times in an effort to kick-start exploration in the UKCS.

Following the successful 28th Round, which ended in 2015, companies now have until 2pm on 26 October 2016 to apply for blocks on offer in this latest 29th Round.

The announcement comes in a week where leading figures in the oil and gas industry have suggested that the worst of the downturn is over. The CEOs of Halliburton and Schlumberger have separately stated their belief that confidence is growing, with plans for increased drilling activity, asset purchases and other ways to expand. This momentum and the opportunities on offer in the 29th Round will bring increased optimism to those involved in the UK oil and gas industry.