The British government has awarded 46 new exploratory drilling licences to companies looking for oil and gas.
The prospecting areas include the English Channel, the North Sea and West of Shetland.
Energy minister Charles Hendry said the licences had been subject to rigorous examination.
Shell has been offered six exploration licences, alongside Esso, which is owned by Exxon. GDF Suez, Centrica and RWE are other licencees.
BP said last year that it and other companies would invest £3 billion in redeveloping two oil fields off the Shetland Islands.