OSLO, April 18 (Reuters) - Oil firms and trade unions in Norway made a joint call on Monday for the opening of a pristine Arctic archipelago to oil exploration as soon as possible to counter an expected decline in offshore production.
Oil exploration off the Lofoten islands has been suspended for the life of the current minority government since it relies on the support of two small parties, one of whose preconditions was that no oil firm can explore there.
But trade unions and energy firms, including the largest operator of platform off Norway Statoil, are keen to reopen the debate ahead of the next parliamentary elections in September 2017 to keep up existing production levels.
The seas off the Lofoten could contain up to 1.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent, according to a 2010 report by the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.
"These areas have a known geology, a large resource potential and are expected to be technically easy to explore and develop," said the report, released on Monday.
It was co-written by the lobbies representing the oil companies, the Norwegian industry, the shipping sector and the two biggest unions in the energy sector.
The report calls for an impact assessment of the area, which is the first formal step needed to allow firms to explore for oil and gas, to take place "as soon as possible".
Environmentalist groups are opposed to oil exploration as the waters off the Lofoten are home to one of the world's largest cod stocks and to unique cold-water reefs.
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
Copyright 2016 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.
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