Norway's annual offshore exploration licensing round in mature areas attracted bids from 25 oil and gas firms, including Shell, ConocoPhillips, Aker BP and Equinor, the country's energy ministry said on Tuesday.
In May, the ministry offered 92 new blocks to search for oil and gas in the Norwegian and the Barents Seas in the so-called pre-defined areas (APA) exploration round.
"Without exploration and new discoveries, we will neither be able to maintain production of oil and gas over time nor further develop the petroleum sector and all jobs in the industry," Terje Aasland, the oil and energy minister, said in a statement.
In recent years, Norway used annual APA rounds to significantly expand exploration acreage on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS), especially in the Arctic Barents Sea, despite protest from environmentalists.
The latest offer added 78 new blocks in the western part of the Barents Sea and 14 blocks in northwestern part of the Norwegian Sea to the already existing APA area.
The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) in a separate statement said almost all companies active on the NCS had submitted, with increased interest in the Barents Sea. It didn't say how many blocks companies had bid for.
Oil and gas companies can also apply for the blocks offered in the previous APA rounds, which had not been awarded, including in the North Sea.
The oil and energy ministry plans to announce the winners of new acreage in early 2024.
(Reuters - Reporting by Nerijus Adomaitis, additional reporting by Nora Buli, editing by Terje Solsvik)