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Norway offers oil firms record number of Arctic blocks

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Oslo (AFP)

Norway on Wednesday proposed to open up a record number of blocks in the Barents Sea to oil exploration despite protests from environmentalists and others fearing possible damage to the Arctic region.

The Norwegian oil and energy ministry offered oil companies 93 blocks in the Barents Sea and nine others in the Norwegian Sea, all located beyond the Arctic Circle.

"New exploration acreage promotes long-term activity, value creation and profitable employment in the petroleum industry across the country," Energy Minister Terje Soviknes, a member of the right-wing government, said in a statement.

Public bodies such as the Norwegian Environment Agency, the Directorate of Fisheries and the Norwegian Polar Institute had opposed the opening of several dozens of these blocks, wary of their proximity to the sea ice and the effect of disruptive surveying techniques on valuable fish stocks, among other things.

"This shows that Norway's government has no respect for the climate goals they signed onto in the Paris agreement," the head of Greenpeace Norway, Truls Gulowsen said, referring to the 2015 COP21 accord aiming to keep global warming to under two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) from pre-industrial levels.

"The blocks offered are for the most part extremely far north in very fragile areas ... but also very expensive to exploit, so it is in all regards oil that should remain underground," he told AFP.

Along with another non-governmental organisation, Greenpeace is already suing the Norwegian state to protest last year's allocation of other areas in the region for oil exploration. The trial is to begin on November 14.

Norsk Olje og Gass, an organisation representing the oil industry, meanwhile welcomed the government's announcement, saying it would bring "enormous value ??to Norwegian society".

The largest producer of black gold in Western Europe, Norway has seen its production halved since the early 2000s.

According to the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, the Barents Sea contains about two-thirds of the nation's remaining resources.

Companies have until November 30 to submit their applications, with licenses expected to be awarded in the first half of 2018.

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