Norway plans to award Arctic oil drilling permits in second quarter, minister says

OSLO (Reuters) - Norway is proceeding with plans to award oil and gas exploration permits in frontier regions of the Arctic later this year, Oil and Energy Minister Tina Bru told parliament on Thursday.

“We expect to make awards during the second quarter,” Bru said.

The government in November said it would offer drilling permits in nine offshore regions containing 136 blocks, mostly in the Arctic Barents Sea, as it seeks to pave the way for a major expansion of exploration.

The deadline for applications is Feb. 23.

Environmental groups say Norway’s hunt for Arctic oil and gas contradicts the country’s international commitments to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, a claim the government denies.

“It takes many years from the time awards are made until discoveries are made and output starts,” said Lars Haltbrekken, a member of parliament for the opposition Socialist Party, which is against the plan.

“The output envisioned by the government from these permits will be in conflict with the goals set in the Paris climate agreement of limiting the rise in globale warming,” he said.

Norway’s Supreme Court last month upheld an earlier government decision on exploration in the Arctic region, however, dismissing a lawsuit by environmental campaigners.

“The oil and gas industry is Norway’s biggest and most important, generating huge value and employing hundreds of thousands of people,” Bru said.

Reporting by Terje Solsvik, editing by Gwladys Fouche