The Petroleum Act 1998 vests all rights to the nation’s petroleum resources in the Crown, but the Oil and Gas Authority can grant licences that confer exclusive rights to ‘search and bore for and get’ petroleum.

Licences fall into several categories. The principal distinctions are between onshore and offshore licences, and between exploration licences (which cover exploration alone) and production licences (which cover both exploration and production). The OGA has discretion in the granting of licences to help maximise the economic recovery of the UK’s oil and gas resources.

Visit the Energy Portal to apply online for onshore and offshore petroleum licences and to request changes to licences eg, assignments and relinquishments (login required).

Licences can be held by a single company or by several working together, but in legal terms there is only ever a single licensee however many companies it may comprise. All companies on a licence share joint and several liability for obligations and liabilities that arise under it. Each licence takes the form of a deed, which binds the licensee to obey the licence conditions regardless of whether or not it is using the licence at any given moment.

Legislative context

  • Petroleum Act 1998

    The Petroleum Act 1998 vests all rights to petroleum in the Crown, including the rights to search for, bore for and get it. It empowers the OGA to grant licences to search for and bore for and get petroleum to such persons as they see fit. The Act also deals with submarine pipelines and the abandonment of offshore installations.

  • Model clauses

    The Petroleum Act requires model clauses to be laid in secondary legislation, which are then incorporated into new licences (except in particular cases). Existing licences are not affected by the issue of subsequent sets of model clauses (except through specifically retrospective measures such as were present in the 1998 Act). It is the responsibility of every licensee to be aware of all regulatory controls, including the model clauses, and to comply with them.

  • EU Offshore Safety Directive

    For the purposes of the Directive, the OGA is the Licensing Authority, and BEIS and HSE together constitute the Competent Authority.

    Visit http://www.hse.gov.uk/osdr for further information. 



The OGA’s licensing system covers oil and gas within Great Britain, its territorial sea and on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).

The designated area of the UKCS has been refined over the years by a series of designations under the Continental Shelf Act 1964 following the conclusion of boundary agreements with neighbouring states. This includes the Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999 (No. 1126), which implements an agreement reached with the Faroe Islands.

View further guidance on offshore co-ordinates (PDF).

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland’s offshore waters are subject to the same licensing system as the rest of the UKCS. Northern Ireland issues its own licences to cover its onshore area independently of the OGA.

Isle of Man

The Department of Economic Development issues licences for its own onshore area and territorial waters.

View further guidance on onshore co-ordinates.

The Crown Estate interests

The Crown Estate Agreements including leases, licences, agreements for lease and search areas is designed to assist petroleum licence holders to identify any area conflicts.

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