The UK is expected to launch its first licensing round since the Coronavirus pandemic within the next few days and the acreage on offer will include priority cluster areas in the Southern North Sea (SNS) that could enable players to speed up hydrocarbon production.

In response to the Europe-wide gas supply crisis, the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), previously known as the Oil & Gas Authority, will offer blocks across all known producing areas on the UK continental shelf while also focusing on assets with development potential in the southern gas basin.

Quoting outgoing NSTA chief executive Andy Samuel the Financial Times (FT) on Monday reported that the licensing round would be launched later this week and that the authority would fast track applications for discoveries in the SNS.

He added that some of these discoveries that could be awarded licences may be producing gas in as little as 12 to 18 months.

“In these unusual times, security of supply is a concern,” said Samuel, adding that the regulator would do “anything we can do to bolster domestic production”.

However, he conceded that the new licences would not have much impact on reducing the UK’s dependence on imports which are expected to increase over the next three decades even though demand for hydrocarbons is decreasing.

“I think it’s unlikely, given it’s a mature basin and the geology is well-known, that we’re suddenly going to have a situation where we are significantly growing production again,” Samuel told the FT.

There has been no official announcement on a specific date for the launch of the upcoming licensing round although an NSTA spokesperson confirmed to Upstream it would be “early October”.