Norway offers oil firms 70 Barents Sea exploration blocks

The move comes even as the International Energy Agency warns against any new oil and gas projects if global warming is to be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The rig for the Goliat oil field in the Barents Sea. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)

Oil companies are invited to apply for drilling licenses in 84 blocks on the Norwegian continental shelf, according to an announcement Wednesday. Of those 84 blocks, 70 are in the country’s northernmost waters, the Barents Sea.

“Announcement and allocation of exploration area is important to maintain the level of activity on the Norwegian shelf,” Minister of Petroleum and Energy Tina Bru said as she announced the 2021 licensing round.

“The announcement of this APA round is in line with the government’s long-term policy for the petroleum industry,” Bru said arguing it “contributes to good resource management, creates great value for the community and secures jobs across the country.”

Companies must apply before September 8, with the government aiming to grant new production licenses in the announced waters in early 2022.

There are no new areas in the Barents Sea to be opened for the petroleum industry in this round. The announcement is for so-called predefined areas, which are the geologically best-known parts of the continental shelf. Discoveries here may be profitable if developed in conjunction with other discoveries utilizing existing or planned infrastructure.

For the Barents Sea, these predefined areas are close to the Goliat field already in operation and the soon to come Johan Castberg field.

The invitation letter posted on the site of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate underlines that production licenses can only be award to companies registered in Norway or and of the other members of the European Economic Area (EU member states plus Iceland and Liechtenstein).

“Oil-black politics” 

Norway’s environmental movement is strongly criticizing new oil drilling.

Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway is upset, calling it “oil-black politics.”

“Yesterday it became clear that Norway will not reach its climate obligations. Today the government offers oil companies massive new exploration. Are there any adults at home?” he asks.

IEA calls on halt 

A new report from the International Energy Agency warns that there can be no new oil and gas projects if global warming is to be kept below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The energy experts clearly say that a complete transformation of energy production, transportation and consumption must be made and that planning of new hydrocarbon projects must be halted.

“The gap between rhetoric and action needs to close if we are to have a fighting chance of reaching net zero by 2050 and limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 degrees C,” says Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA.

The report has gotten lukewarm reception from the Norwegian government, which insists that its oil and gas policy will remain unchanged.

According to Statistics Norway, the oil production on the continental shelf increased by 6 percent from 2019 to 2020 to a total of 226.5 million standard cubic-meter oil equivalent (Sm3 o.e.). Norway’s production is expected to increase until 2024.