Who Owns
the North Sea?
An interactive database showing who owns petroleum licences in the North Sea
Sophie Flinders
How it works
Each circle is a “block”, a sub-level of the licences granted by the North Sea Transition Authority (NSTA), which gives the owners exclusive rights to search for and extract fossil fuels in the defined area.
The colour of the marker denotes the company type of the majority equity holder: green is for limited companies, pink is for state-owned enterprises, and purple is for publicly-listed companies.
Notes: All licence and equity data is derived from the North Sea Transition Authority’s NSTA_Licences_ETRS89 document under the OGA Open User License, found here. All data is the property of the NSTA. Connections to Ultimate Parent entities derive from Common Wealth analysis of LSEG's database and publicly available filings and information.
Executive Producer: Sophie Flinders, Common Wealth
Source: North Sea Transition Authority

Who Owns the North Sea?

An interactive database showing who owns petroleum licences in the North Sea

The UK is the second largest oil and gas producer in Europe, with most of this extraction happening through the North Sea. Because of this, the winding down of North Sea fossil fuel extraction is imperative for a clean energy transition. Rather than prepare for this transition, in November, the government announced “new opportunities” for North Sea oil and gas licences by mandating annual oil and gas licensing rounds in areas of protected marine life: a plan that stands against people and fails on economic, energy security and climate grounds.

Common Wealth has updated our Who Owns the North Sea interactive map and database to highlight who stands to benefit from North Sea oil by detailing which companies own the current petroleum licences.

Here are some key findings from the data provided by the North Sea Transition Authority:

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There are 314 petroleum licences in operation.
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Just 61 companies are beneficiaries of these licences, the majority of which are publicly listed, a third are privately-owned and less transparent companies, and a handful are state-owned enterprises from China, Russia, Norway, Korea and the United Arab Emirates.
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Private equity backed ventures, who entered the North Sea market following the crash in oil prices in 2014 are still present. Our research finds that 29.7% of the North Sea is owned by current or former private equity-backed companies.
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Today, the two companies with the largest stake in the UK’s North Sea are Perenco, a private oil and gas group who has been accused of numerous environmental and human rights scandals, and Harbour Energy, a formerly private equity backed now publicly-listed venture which was set up in 2014.

With licences granted to private companies and foreign state-owned enterprises, there is no guarantee that the energy generated through North Sea extraction will bolster the Britain’s energy security.

A just transition requires managing the North Sea as a common resource. Instead, currently 10.8% of the North Sea’s equity is held by state-owned enterprises and the energy giants BP, Shell ExxonMobil, Centrica, ConocoPhillips, Repsol and Total Energies own 33.4%. As the TUC points out, in countries like Norway, France, Denmark, Germany and Sweden majority publicly-owned companies invest in energy generation and play a central part in their country’s sustainable industrial strategy. The government’s plan to offer new licences and open new areas of the North Sea to oil and gas exploration and production will only benefit private and foreign state-owned companies, not the government.

The government already shoulders the majority of decommissioning costs for old North Sea infrastructure, why should they not benefit from the profits the North Sea can generate? Public ownership of the North Sea would provide the best basis for managing the clean energy transition, coordinated by the state rather than by different firms with different agendas.

Explore our updated interactive database of North Sea oil licences to better understand its current beneficiaries.

Cover image licensed to Gary Bembridge (CC BY 2.0 DEED)