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New oil and gas licences for North Sea exploration to be issued

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The UK has opened a new oil and gas licensing round for companies to explore for reserves in the North Sea.

About 900 locations are being offered for exploration, with as many as 100 licences set to be awarded, the BBC has reported.

The decision is at odds with international climate scientists who say fossil fuel projects should be closed down, not expanded.

Business Secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg said the new exploration would boost energy security in the country.

Licences are being made available for 898 sectors of the North Sea - known as blocks.

"Putin's illegal invasion of Ukraine means it is now more important than ever that we make the most of sovereign energy resources," Mr Rees-Mogg said in a statement.

The licensing process will be fast-tracked in parts of the North Sea that are near existing infrastructure and so have the potential to be developed quickly, according to the North Sea Transition Authority. It says the average time between discovery and first production is close to five years but that gap is shrinking.

Both campaigners and the oil industry agree that the reserves will not be large enough to have a significant impact on the prices consumers pay for energy in the UK.

The decision to launch a licensing round follows the publication of the government's Climate Compatibility Checkpoint, which "aims to ensure" the new exploration aligns with the UK's climate objectives.

The checkpoint criteria cover emissions from oil and gas production and how those emissions compare internationally but take no account of the carbon dioxide emitted when the oil and gas are burnt.