LONDON (Reuters) - Britain has seen unprecedented interest in developing North Sea oil and gas fields, with companies applying for a record 224 licences covering 418 blocks in its latest exploration round, the government said on Wednesday.
Britain's 27th licensing round was launched in February and breaks the record for applications set in the previous round by 37.
"There remains an extraordinary level of interest in North Sea oil and gas, and it is tremendous news for industry and for the UK economy," UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry said.
"The recent Budget was an important step to create a fiscal environment for North Sea development to flourish - providing energy security and jobs," he said.
Britain's oil and gas output passed its peak in 1999, but the government estimates there could still be over 20 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) in UK waters, and hopes the latest licensing round will help get it out.
Domestic production accounts for nearly half of the country's oil and gas consumption, according to the Department of Energy and Climate Change.
British finance minister George Osborne introduced a 3 billion pound new field allowance in his annual Budget statement in March designed to stimulate investment in the North Sea.
(Reporting by Oleg Vukmanovic; Editing by Will Waterman)