Norway to Offer Record 78 Blocks in the Arctic for Oil and Gas Exploration

Norway said on Tuesday it was planning to offer a record 78 new blocks to explore oil and gas in the Arctic, as the Nordic country looks to prolong its hydrocarbon production despite criticism from environmental groups. Norway has become Europe’s largest gas supplier and a major crude oil exporter after Russia cut off most of gas supplies in 2022. Its offer of 78 blocks to energy firms in the Barents Sea is the highest number since the so-called APA licensing round started in 2003. Norway also plans to offer 14 new blocks in the Norwegian Sea, bringing the total number to 92.

Last year, Oslo only added 28 blocks in total to the so-called APA licensing round.

“To facilitate new discoveries up north is important for Europe, the country and the region,” Oil and Energy Minister Aasland said in a statement.

Norway’s target to continue producing hydrocarbons come amid contradictory pressures. On the one hand, there is a need to ramp up production of non-Russian hydrocarbons and on the other, to limit the effects of climate change.

The Barents Sea may contain two-thirds of the oil and gas yet to be discovered off Norway, according to Norwegian official estimates.

Greenpeace said most blocks on offer were “far north” in the Barents Sea, with some lying in what it said were areas where the ice sheet can sometimes reach during the year.

The Arctic ice sheet’s surface grows in winter and shrinks in summer. Overall it has reduced in size over the years due to the effects of climate change.

Still, Norway’s minority government needs the support of Socialist Left (SV) to pass the legislation. The party keeps being opposed to hydrocarbon development because of climate change concerns.

“The government still thinks Norway should be one of the leading countries in exporting pollution and fossil fuels to the rest of the world,” said SV lawmaker Haltbrekken. “This is the opposite of what the climate crisis needs as a response.”

The party in November negotiated with the government that there would be no new licensing rounds in frontier areas, the so-called numbered licensing round, during the life of the current parliament which ends in 2025.

But that deal does not stop the government from offering licenses to oil firms in the separate APA licensing round, meant to offer areas with well-known geology or near existing infrastructure.

At the time of the negotiations Aasland said that “the importance of the numbered rounds has decreased over the years”, and that what mattered for maintaining activity was the APA round.

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