OSLO, Sept 11 (Reuters) – Norway received applications from 47 energy firms, including most majors operating in the country, for oil and gas licences in mature areas, offering a boost for the sector which struggled with poor exploration results this year, the oil ministry said.
Norway each year hands out licences in areas already opened for exploration, hoping to attract energy firms back to blocks passed over in previous rounds or already abandoned.
The licensing rounds have attracted a plethora of smaller explorers and also yielded major finds, including parts of Norwegian company Statoil's Johan Sverdrup field, which holds up to 2.9 billion barrels of oil equivalent.
Energy firms are returning to areas they once passed over as seismic technology improves, or the size of finds in other areas decreases. Norway also offers a 78 percent rebate on exploration costs, make it relatively cheap to drill, attracting smaller explorers.
Applicants in the 2014 round include Statoil, Shell , Centrica, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil , E.ON and GDF. Awards are expected in January, the ministry said in a statement on Thursday.
A year earlier, Norway attracted applications from 50 companies.
Spending in Norway's oil sector is expected to hit a record high $33 billion this year. However, Statistics Norway recently forecast a drop of 7.5 percent next year, as energy firms delay or cancel projects to cut costs and save cash.
Notable exploration failures, particularly in the Arctic Barents Sea, could also curb the appetite for exploration, analysts said.
New licences in frontier areas will not be awarded until 2016 as the government needs more time to prepare to give out blocks in an Arctic zone bordering Russia.
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Balazs Koranyi and Susan Thomas)
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