Norway has reduced to 94 from 100 the number of blocks on offer in its 21st oil and gas licensing round, but has still included 12 deepwater blocks following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, disappointing environmentalists.
Opponents of prime minister Jens Stoltenberg said that by opening new areas and keeping the licensing round on schedule, his government was ignoring the dangers that the Deepwater Horizon accident had shown.
Earlier this month, Norway said it would not open new deepwater areas for drilling until an investigation shed light on BP’s well blowout and oil spill.
Its energy minister, Terje Riis-Johansen, said: “Increased knowledge about the accident with the Deepwater Horizon will be part of the basis for this (licence award) decision.”
The 21st round licences are due to be awarded next spring. Two of the six blocks removed from the round are in areas close to the coastline, with the remaining four in the Norwegian Sea, just south of the Lofoten archipelago which environmentalists say are very vulnerable to hydrocarbon activities.
Mr Riis-Johansen said the 12 deepwater blocks offered in the round would be specially evaluated in light of information from an investigation into the BP incident, however, he added that the UK major would be treated equally to other bidders if it chose to take part.
The round is in line with a trend for oil and gas activities to move farther north into the Arctic and farther offshore with much of the easier oil in Norwegian waters gone.