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Norway's Offshore Oil Licenses Spark Big Interest

A record 47 companies applied for offshore oil exploration licenses for blocks near existing finds off Norway in the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea as a deadline ran out Friday, the Norwegian oil minister said.

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Norway, a major oil and gas exporter, began offering unexplored blocks near existing finds in 2003 in what it calls Awards in Predefined Areas. The Nordic country hopes small finds near already operating fields will shore up declining offshore production.

"It is positive to see that many companies still find interesting opportunities in areas that have been available for exploration for several years. Several new companies among the applicants also reflect the diversity on the Norwegian shelf," said Norwegian Oil Minister Terje Riis-Johansen.

He said he hopes to award the new blocks early next year.

Strong oil prices and technological advances can make it economically viable to develop smaller oil finds, especially if costs can be sharply cut by linking new fields into existing platforms and oil pipelines.

The number of companies seeking licenses in predefined areas keeps increasing, from 16 in 2003 to 22 in 2004, 29 in 2005, 43 in 2006, 46 last year and 47 this year.

In addition to offering licenses in mature areas, Norway has separate licensing rounds for blocks in unexplored areas off its coast.

Companies applying for licenses, many of them Norwegian divisions of international groups, included: ConocoPhillips Skandinavia, Endeavour Energy Norge, Eni Norge, E. ON Ruhrgas Norge, ExxonMobil E&P Norway, Gaz de France Norge, Idemitsu Petroleum Norge, Marathon Petroleum Norge, AS Norske Shell, StatoilHydro, Talisman Energy Norge, and Total E&P Norge.

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