The UK North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA) has received 115 bids in the 33rd oil and gas licensing round from a total of 76 companies.

The country’s latest offshore oil and gas licensing round has attracted bids across 258 blocks and part-blocks out of 931 blocks in the North Sea.

Under the licensing round, the NSTA offered four priority areas with known hydrocarbons (oil and gas). These areas could see production in approximately 18 months.

NSTA exploration and new ventures head Dr Nick Richardson said: “We will now be working hard to analyse the applications, with a view to awarding the first licences from the second quarter of 2023.”

The licensing round forms part of the UK government’s efforts to boost energy security and increase domestic hydrocarbon production, as Europe looks to reduce its Russian fuel in the wake of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

However, the licensing round is being criticised by climate activists while Greenpeace is considering a legal challenge, reported Reuters.

UK Energy and Climate Minister Graham Stuart said: “Putin’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has led to volatile global energy markets.

“It’s fantastic to see such interest from industry in this round, with the awarded licences set to play an important role in boosting domestic energy production and securing the UK’s long-term energy security of supply.”

In order to support the country’s energy security, the NSTA’s efforts include licensing the Rough gas storage facility. It is also encouraging firms to reopen the closed oil and gas wells.