RPT-Statoil hands back three Greenland exploration licences

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OSLO, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Norway’s Statoil has handed back three out of its four Greenland offshore oil and gas exploration licences, it said on Wednesday, in another sign of cost cutting by energy firms following a plunge in oil prices.

Statoil had said it would slow its Arctic exploration efforts, one of its priority areas, to control capital spending. Statoil has Arctic licences from Greenland to Russia.

Britain’s Cairn Energy has been the biggest explorer in Greenland but its eight-well, $1.2 billion campaign in 2010 and 2011 yielded no commercial finds.

Statoil’s three licences off the west coast of Greenland were handed back by the end of 2014, but the company kept one licence off the island’s east coast where the deadline for drilling is longer.

“We have now completed the working programme and have no further obligations, and we don’t see any potential in taking on further obligations in these licences,” spokesman Knut Rostad said.

French utility GDF Suez said it has handed back both of its Greenland licences as it did not see any prospects of actually drilling any wells.

Denmark’s Dong Energy has also quit its licences on Greenland’s west coast, Danish newspaper Politiken reported.

Greenland has untapped hydrocarbon and mineral resources, but harsh weather, a lack of infrastructure and high costs have made oil companies wary of launching big exploration campaigns in the country.

Last week, Maersk Oil, a unit of Denmark’s A.P. Moller-Maersk, postponed a decision on whether to drill for oil at an exploration licence off Greenland. (Reporting by Stine Jacobsen, editing by Terje Solsvik and Jason Neely)