* 40 firms awarded stakes, 23 of these have operatorships
* Oil majors awarded operatorships: Shell, Total
* Winners: Statoil, Tullow-backed Spring Energy
By Gwladys Fouche
SANDEFJORD, Norway, Jan 15 Norway has awarded 51 gas and oil licences after attracting record interest from firms spurred on by high prices to renew exploration in well-developed areas of the country's continental shelf deemed uninteresting a few years ago.
Norwegian authorities will hope the renewed interest prolongs production, with the world's eighth-biggest crude oil exporter expected to see output fall to a 25-year low in 2013.
Most of the blocks or partial blocks awarded on Tuesday in the licensing round were in the North Sea, which has seen its prospects rejuvenated after the discovery of the giant Johan Sverdrup oil field in 2011. Some 40 of the record 47 companies that originally applied ending up receiving stakes in licences.
Several firms which did not apply the last time licences were awarded for mature areas did so this time, the biggest of which was Chevron. Of the six oil majors, only BP , a big operator in Norway, did not receive a licence.
"There has been a broad of number of companies who have applied, showing a huge interest in the Norwegian continental shelf," oil and energy minister Ola Borten Moe told Reuters.
"From our point of view, it is good news. It will lay the foundation for a sustainable level of activity," he said.
Some 35 licences were awarded in the North Sea, 13 in the Norwegian Sea, and 3 in the Barents Sea.
Unexplored areas in the Barents Sea and Norwegian Sea will be offered later this year and will focus heavily on the Arctic, where big discoveries have been made recently.
In this round, Royal Dutch Shell and Total received the most operatorships among non-Norwegian firms, with four each. Overall, Shell received five stakes in licences while Total got eight.
Shell is focusing on the Norwegian Sea where it operates the huge Ormen Lange gas field, which can supply 20 percent of Britain's gas demand.
Total, meanwhile, appeared more interested in the North Sea.
ExxonMobil received four stakes in licences, while ConocoPhillips and Chevron got one.
Original applicant BP did not receive anything, as it sold Shell its stake in the one licence it was reapplying for, the oil and energy ministry said.
STATOIL, TULLOW-BACKED FIRM RECEIVE MOST LICENCES
The big winner overall was state-controlled Statoil which received 14 licences, of which seven were operatorships, spread across the North Sea, Norwegian Sea and Barents Sea.
"We are very pleased with the awards, which answered our expectations," Statoil head of development and production in Norway, Oeystein Michelsen, said. "We have received licences ... both in new areas and where there is already infrastructure (to produce oil and gas)."
Another big winner was Norwegian minnow Spring Energy, bought in December by London-listed Tullow and which got 13 stakes in licences, of which four are operatorships.
The awards indicated a shift in policy from the oil ministry as to how it awards licences to oil companies, Swedbank First Securities analyst Teodor Sveen Nielsen said in a note .
"Financial strength and track record are more important criteria than before. We are impressed by the number of licences awarded to Spring, which probably reflects the company's excellent track record on the Norwegian continental shelf and its financial strength through its owner Tullow," he said.
The Norwegian oil industry lobby said more areas could have been offered to oil companies. "It is disappointing that the ministry offers fewer stakes this time compared to last year's round. When there are more companies that have applied than last time, this should be reflected in the awards."