North Sea third-largest offshore oil licensing round in 40 years

Norway offered oil companies 192 offshore exploration blocks on Tuesday in one of the biggest licensing rounds in 40 years. The Norwegian Oil and Energy Ministry said the blocks were in so-called mature areas of the North Sea , the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea .

The Nordic country is the world's third largest oil exporter, after Saudi Arabia and Russia , with an average 2005 production of about 2.6 million barrels per day. It is also a major natural gas exporter. The government encourages oil companies to explore untested blocks in mature areas, where there are already fields in production, to boost capacity at a lower cost by using existing pipelines and platforms.

This is the fourth round in the program it calls Awards in Predefined Areas, or APA. "It is important that the industry still has a high focus towards efficient utilization of existing infrastructure through the development of additional resources in mature parts of the Norwegian continental shelf," said Oil Minister Odd Roger Enoksen.

The ministry said the area being offered for exploration, with 192 whole or partial blocks, is the third-largest since oil exploration began off Norway in 1965. "There are a considerable number of blocks with prospective opportunities available for the industry in this year's APA round," said Enoksen in a news release.

Oil companies have until Sept. 29 to apply for blocks, with the awards to be announced in December, the ministry said. Due in part to near-record crude oil prices, there was strong interest in APA blocks, with the number of oil companies competing for blocks in 2005 doubling in two years, reports the AP.


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