The Norwegian Ministry of Energy offered 62 new production licenses on the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS) in the Awards in Predefined Areas (APA) 2023 licensing round, the ministry announced Jan. 16.

Of the 62 production licenses offered in APA, 29 are in the North Sea, 25 in the Norwegian Sea and eight in the Barents Sea.

Equinor claimed the most licenses, winning interest in 39 licenses, of which it will operate 14. Equinor won 18 production licenses in the North Sea, 13 in the Norwegian Sea and eight in the Barents Sea.

“We are familiar with the geology and confident that we will make new discoveries," Jez Averty, Equinor's senior vice president for subsurface, the Norwegian Continental Shelf (NCS), said in a press release.

Aker BP also cleaned up, scoring interests in 27 blocks, of which it will operate 17.

Aker BP said in a press release that the license awards consolidate the company’s position as the most active independent exploration company on the NCS.

“Our strategy is to have a portfolio of acreage that provides a good balance between exploration wells close to existing infrastructure and wells that can lay the foundation for independent developments if we make discoveries. For some of the exploration prospects, we are particularly targeting gas,” Per Øyvind Seljebotn, Aker BP’s senior vice president for exploration and reservoir development, said in a press release.

APA 2023 overview

Available licenses MAP
The maps show licensed acreage within the APA boundaries as of May 2023, when the round was opened. (Source: Norwegian Offshore Directorate)

In total, 24 of 25 companies applying for licenses received partnerships in one or more licenses, with 16 companies being offered one or more operatorships.

Companies, along with the number of licenses and number of operatorships offered include:

Infrastructure-led exploration

Draugen platform
OKEA won three licenses around the Draugen (pictured) and Statfjord production hubs. (Source: OKEA)

The Norwegian Offshore Directorate (NOD), which recently rebranded from Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, said 16 of the production licenses add acreage to existing production licenses.

"We can see that the companies still have plenty of faith in making more discoveries in areas with familiar geology and close to existing infrastructure. It's important to prove resources so that available capacity in established process plants and pipeline systems can be utilized. This means that even small discoveries can yield significant value creation," Kalmar Ildstad, NOD director of license management, said in a press release.

Neptune Energy won three operatorships and one partnership near its operated Gjøa platform, a hub for four producing fields in the North Sea and may soon serve two additional discoveries being considered for fast-track development.

“Over the last few years, we have had great exploration success in this region, and we feel confident that the new licenses will contribute to both short-term and long-term barrels,” Steinar Meland, Neptune’s director of subsurface in Norway, said in a press release.

OKEA said the three licenses it received strengthen its position around the Draugen and Statfjord production hubs. OKEA will operate PL 1223 containing the Galtvort discovery, which could be tied back to the Draugen hub, the company said.

Vår Energi will operate one license in both the North Sea and Norwegian Sea. It also won partnerships in three additional North Sea and four additional Norwegian Sea licenses.

Vår will also operate two licenses in the Barents Sea and is a partner in five additional licenses there.

“In addition to further development in and around existing fields, we are intensifying our work to unlock the hydrocarbon potential in the western Barents Sea,” Vår Energi CEO Nick Walker said in a press release.

Wintershall Dea won four operatorships and six partnerships in the Norwegian Sea’s Vøring Basin, where Wintershall has a stake in the Aasta Hansteen Field and the Haltenbanken area, where Wintershall operates the Maria and Dvalin fields.

“Exploring in mature areas where we have a presence means we are already familiar with the geology, thus maximizing our chances of making a discovery. Meanwhile, proximity to existing assets means discoveries with lower volumes can still be commercially developed, since they tap into existing infrastructure,” Roy Davies, Wintershall Dea Norge vice president for exploration, said in a press release.

In the North Sea, the two partnerships and one operatorship are located in the Q35 area, close to the Wintershall-operated Nova and Vega fields, and the Tampen area close to the Snorre Field where Wintershall is a partner.

In the previous APA round, 47 licenses were awarded. Since 2003, licenses have been granted in the most mature areas of the NCS for exploration.