The UK has launched a new tender for oil and gas licences, opening up new offshore drilling areas for fossil fuel extraction.
Hoping to generate tax revenue and create jobs, the UK government said on Friday it expects a high level of interest. In the previous round about two months ago 219 new licences were awarded.
"There continues to be extremely high level of interest in North Sea oil and gas, which is unsurprising when there could be as many as 20 billion barrels of oil still buried deep within the seabed," Energy Minister Michael Fallon said in a statement.
Submissions for new licences have to be made to the government by 25 April.
Britain's oil and gas output has been in steady decline since production peaked around the turn of the century and the government is speeding up its planning regime to help oil and gas companies extract resources left below the seabed.
The oil and gas industry is an important contributor to government revenue. Last year, 36 new offshore projects were approved, generating about £6.5bn in tax revenue and additional £5bn through taxes on the wider supply chain, the government said. The sector employs roughly 350,000 people, of which 45 per cent in Scotland.
The government is also counting on vast onshore shale gas resources to help stem Britain's growing dependence on energy imports and boost government coffers.
The energy department is expected to launch the country's next onshore licensing round, which includes shale gas, in early summer.