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Norway launched a consultation on Thursday on a 2021 licensing round in mature areas in which it offered 84 new blocks for petroleum exploration, including 70 in the Arctic Barents Sea.

The maps attached to a statement by the Petroleum and Energy Ministry showed new blocks offered southeast of Bear Island, roughly half way between the Arctic Svalbard Archipelago and mainland Europe.

Four new blocks were offered in the North Sea and 10 in the Norwegian Sea, the statement said.

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“Predictable access to (a) new exploration area is crucial for further development of the petroleum industry. It enables us to maintain activity and value creation on the Norwegian shelf and in the supplier industry,” Norway’s Oil and Energy Minister Tina Bru said in a statement.

The so-called predefined areas (APA) licensing rounds were introduced in 2003 to facilitate exploration in the most geologically known parts of the Norwegian continental shelf.

The centre-right government has increasingly used those to expand exploration acreage in the Barents Sea, which has only two producing fields.

Norway also holds so-called “numbered” licensing rounds focused on the frontier areas.

Seven oil companies, including Equinor, Shell and Eni’s Norwegian subsidiary Vaar Energi, have applied for blocks offered in the latest 25th licensing round, the ministry said.

Norway has offered 136 new offshore exploration blocks in the round, including 125 in the Barents Sea.

The applicant list does not include Norway’s independent oil firm Aker BP, which has previously said it was disappointed with exploration results in the Barents Sea.

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Other applicants in the 25th licensing round are Lundin Energy, OMV, Idemitsu and Ineos.

Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway, said the push for oil exploration in the Arctic showed Norway was not “a green nation”, while it should take a hint from a dwindling interest in exploration.

The previous two frontier areas licensing rounds, 24th and 23rd, attracted bids from 11 and 26 oil companies respectively.

“Norway should take the reduced appetite from the industry as a clear indication that oil is on its way out and that we better start the transition away from fossil fuels,” Pleym added.

The oil ministry said it planned to announce awards in the 25th licensing round during the first part of 2021, and the awards in the APA 2021 round in January 2022.

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