Norway Energy Minister May Move 19th Licensing Round Forward

Minister of Petroleum and Energy Thorhild Widvey said Thursday she may bring forward Norway's 19th oil and natural gas licensing round to increase the rate of replacement of its hydrocarbon reserves.

The licensing rounds normally take place every two years, but Widvey said that despite the completion of the 18th round this year, she may hold one in 2005.

In addition, new offshore oil and gas exploration areas may be offered in the southern Barents Sea, adding to the three blocks made available this year, Widvey said in an interview with Dow Jones Newswires.

"It doesn't have to be every second year, it could be earlier to start the next round," Widvey said.

The Barents Sea is seen as the final frontier for Norway and the last chance for any major oil and gas discoveries.

State-owned Statoil is currently developing a massive liquid natural gas project in northern Norway to accept gas from its 320 billion cubic meter Snoehvit project in the Barents Sea.

At the Hammerfest LNG site, Statoil is planning a second train to process the additional 150 bcm to 200 bcm it hopes to discover in the area around Snoehvit.

Norsk Hydro also is drilling in the three awarded blocks.

"By early spring we could have some real results that could be very interesting," the minister said.