A record number of UK independent oil companies have been granted licences to explore the North Sea today.

A total of 52 new licences have been announced, bringing the number of offers of awards in the 27th round to 219 – an all-time record.

They included licences being awarded to 21 smaller independents that are new to the market – three times more than the last round.

Canadian firm North Sea Energy will continue its partnership with EnCounter for the Moray Firth after winning two of the licences.

The companies, which partnered for the Blofeld and Bagpuss finds in the Moray Firth, have won licences 19/2 and 19/3, along with a part of the 18/10 block off the North-east coast of Scotland.

The awards were confirmed today by energy minister Michael Fallon, as part of 52 new North Sea licences issued for the 27th round of offshore sites.

“This series of offers further demonstrates the continuing attractiveness both of the United Kingdom Continental Shelf as an oil and gas producing province and of our approach to offering a range of licences meeting a diverse range of needs,” he said.

BP will continue to build on their West of Shetland presence after securing four offers, on the edge of its Clare field.

The company has already announced plans for a two-year appraisal programme to look at the developing a third phase of the giant field, with more than £300million earmarked for exploration work in the region.

Nexen will shoot and reprocess 3D seismic data for its win in block 19, where it already operates on the Buzzard field.

Statoil has won the licence for two blocks to obtain 3D data near its planned Mariner development, on the far edge of the continental shelf, while Maersk and Endeavour have also taken licences far into the North Sea.

Premier Oil has taken a licence north of its interests in the Norfolk and Norfolk East blocks as it looks to replicate the c=Captain field.

Centrica were the big winners in the licencing round, picking up nine licences either by themselves or in partnership.

The wins, focused around the central North Sea region, will see them committing to shooting or reprocessing existing 3D data for the fields. They will partner with Atlantic Oil in four of the prospects, along with Holywell for two. GDF Suex and Trap Oil will also come on board for two of the licences as partners.

Last night the UK Government underlined its commitment to “maximise resources available in the North Sea in order to boost energy security, revenues and jobs and support the growth of the oil and gas industry”.

The Government has already introduced fiscal incentives for offshore exploration, including increasing the size and scope of the small field allowance.

Sir Ian Wood recently published his interim proposals for the future of the industry, including a number of which could contribute to improving the investment climate for independents.

These include improving third party access to infrastructure, promoting successful collaboration across industry including on rig sharing and deployment of new technologies, and resolving commercial disputes more quickly.