(Bloomberg) -- JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp. agreed to sell its U.K. North Sea assets to private equity-owned NEO Energy for $1.7 billion amid an uptick in interest in the region.

The purchase could be the biggest in the basin this year, with NEO -- backed by Norway’s HitecVision AS -- cementing its status as 2021’s top buyer. It’s among a raft of investment firms and smaller drillers snapping up North Sea fields as major international energy companies sell out of the aging province to expand elsewhere.

The agreement, subject to regulatory approvals, includes JX Nippon’s 20% interest in the Mariner deposit, which is operated by Equinor ASA, and 18% of TotalEnergies SE’s Culzean project, NEO said in a statement Friday. Those are among the newest large oil and gas fields in the region. 

The deal doesn’t include JX Nippon’s interests in the North Sea’s Andrew Area, according to the statement. The Japanese company, which is owned by Tokyo-based Eneos Holdings Inc., has been in separate negotiations to sell its stake in the asset to BP Plc, Bloomberg News reported this month. A spokesman for JX Nippon declined to comment on the talks on Friday.

NEO, founded two years ago, has been particularly acquisitive in the North Sea. Yet a deal earlier this year to buy U.K. assets from Exxon Mobil Corp. for more than $1 billion is still to be completed. 

The latest transaction would add to almost $200 billion of deals involving oil and gas companies globally this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. And more assets are on the block. 

Dutch oil and gas company ONE-Dyas BV is looking to sell its North Sea interests, while Abu Dhabi state-owned utility Taqa has begun a process to offload its stakes in the basin, people familiar with the matter said earlier this year.

(Updates with NEO’s ranking in second paragraph.)

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