SANDEFJORD, Norway, Jan 21 (Reuters) - Norway awarded a record 65 oil and gas production licences in a mature area licensing round on Tuesday and attracted high interest from oil firms in exploring its Arctic, despite an oil tax hike and increased industry costs.
A record 48 companies were awarded stakes to explore in mature areas - licences that are already opened for exploration - and 40 oil firms expressed interest in exploring in Norway's Barents and Norwegian Seas as part of the Nordic country's 23rd licensing round for new areas.
Norwegian authorities hope the interest will prolong production, after the world's seventh-biggest crude oil exporter saw its oil output fall to a 25-year low in 2013.
"Exploring in new and mature areas is the key to creating value for the industry," Norway's oil and energy minister Tord Lien told an audience of oil and gas executives.
The licensing rounds were the first after the previous centre-left government, which left power in October, introduced an oil tax hike opposed by oil and gas companies.
The tax increase, together with sharply higher costs and lower oil prices, has led to delays in the development of flagship Arctic projects as well as of smaller oilfields further south.
Reflecting this cautious optimism, industry executives have forecast tighter monitoring of capital expenditure this year, according to a report released on Monday by Norway's DNV, a top technical adviser to the oil industry.
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