The government launched its 27th offshore oil and gas licensing round on Wednesday with 2,800 blocks made available to energy explorers, it said.

Licence awards in the last round set an all-time high at 190 as high oil prices attracted investment.

This is shaping up to be a very prosperous year for the North Sea as we expect a substantial increase in field approvals, Energy Minister Charles Hendry said.

With around 20 billion barrels of oil still to be extracted, the UK Continental Shelf has many years of productivity left, he said.

(Reporting by Oleg Vukmanovic; editing by Keiron Henderson)