wh UPDATE 1-Norway grants record 65 oil licences in mature areas round
* 48 firms awarded stakes out of 50 firms that applied
* First such round since last year's oil tax hike
* Norway's oil output fell to 25-year low in 2013
By Gwladys Fouche and Henrik Stolen
SANDEFJORD, Norway, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Norway awarded a record 65 oil and gas production licences in a mature area licensing round, its oil minister said on Tuesday, maintaining high interest from energy firms despite an oil tax hike and increased industry costs.
Some 48 companies, also a record, were awarded stakes, of which 29 won operatorships.
Norwegian authorities will hope the interest prolongs production, after the world's seventh-biggest crude oil exporter saw its oil output fall to a 25-year low in 2013.
"Both numbers this year are new records," Norway's oil and energy minister Tord Lien told an audience of oil and gas executives. "Exploring in new and mature areas is the key to create value for the industry."
The licensing round was the first after the previous centre-left government, which left power in October, introduced an oil tax hike opposed by oil and gas companies.
The biggest winners were Statoil with 7 operatorships in 10 licenses, Sweden's Lundin Petroleum with 4 operatorships in 9 licenses, Wintershall, a unit of German chemical giant BASF, with 5 operatorships in 8 licenses, and Tullow Oil with 4 operatorships also in 8 licenses.
Two companies that applied for licenses were left empty-handed: RWE Dea and Iceland's Eykon Energy.
Out of 65 production licences awarded, 38 are located in the North Sea, 19 in the Norwegian Sea and 8 in the Barents Sea.
Unexplored areas will be offered later this year and will include for the first time licenses in an offshore zone the size of Switzerland in the Barents Sea that borders Russia, where some 1.9 billion barrels of oil equivalent could lay buried under the seabed.
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