* Record 48 firms awarded stakes in mature area licensing
* Some 40 firms apply to explore in Norway's Arctic
* First rounds 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 Norway awarded a
record 65 oil and gas production licences in a mature area
licensing round on Tuesday and attracted high interest from oil
firms in exploring its Arctic, despite an oil tax hike and
increased industry costs.
A record 48 companies were awarded stakes to explore in
mature areas - licences that are already opened for exploration
- and 40 oil firms expressed interest in exploring in Norway's
Barents and Norwegian Seas as part of the Nordic country's 23rd
licensing round for new areas.
Norwegian authorities hope the interest will prolong
production, after the world's seventh-biggest crude oil exporter
saw its oil output fall to a 25-year low in 2013.
"Exploring in new and mature areas is the key to creating
value for the industry," Norway's oil and energy minister Tord
Lien told an audience of oil and gas executives.
The licensing rounds were 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 tax increase, together with sharply higher costs and
lower oil prices, has led to delays in the development of
flagship Arctic projects as well as of smaller oilfields further
Reflecting this cautious optimism, industry executives have
forecast tighter monitoring of capital expenditure this year,
according to a report released on Monday by Norway's DNV, a top
technical adviser to the oil industry.
The survey indicated that Norway has fallen to 9th place on
the list of most attractive investment destinations for the
industry from 4th place two years ago, mostly because of a
shortage of skilled professionals and competition from
"This is causing professionals to focus spending on the
projects that will provide the greatest return on investment,"
said the report.
Despite these concerns, the results of the licensing rounds
showed that oil firms remained keen to continue exploring off
In the mature licensing round, the biggest winners were
Statoil with 7 operatorships in 10 licences, Sweden's
Lundin Petroleum with 4 operatorships in 9 licences,
Wintershall, a unit of German chemical giant BASF,
with 5 operatorships in 8 licences, and Tullow Oil with
4 operatorships also in 8 licences.
Among the majors, Total, Shell,
ConocoPhillips were awarded operatorships, while
ExxonMobil and Chevron were awarded licences. BP
did not apply.
Two companies that applied for licences were left
empty-handed: RWE Dea and Iceland's Eykon Energy.
"It has do with the quality of their applications," Lien
told Reuters, without elaborating further on the reasons.
Out of 65 production licences awarded, 38 are located in the
North Sea, 19 in the Norwegian Sea and 8 in the Barents Sea.
In the new areas' licensing round, some 40 companies
nominated 160 blocks they would like to explore with 140 of
these in the Barents Sea and the rest in the Norwegian Sea.
Among the majors, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP named
areas they would like to explore. ExxonMobil did not apply.
Among the other companies, Statoil, Tullow Oil, Wintershall
and Russia's Lukoil applied for licences.
This licensing round will include for the first time
licences in an offshore zone the size of Switzerland that
borders Russia, where some 1.9 billion barrels of oil equivalent
could lay buried under the seabed.
"We are very interested in this area," Tor Arnesen, managing
director of Shell in Norway told Reuters.
The results of this licensing round will be announced later