Norway has for the first time offered petroleum offshore exploration acreage to an oil service company.
Under the North Sea Round 2000 licence awards on Thursday, Norway's Aker Maritime was offered 49 per cent as a partner in block 35/3, while German company RWE-DEA was given operatorship and 51 per cent.
Traditionally, only upstream oil companies have been allowed to explore offshore Norway. The exception is Norway's Ugland Construction, which has less than 1 per cent interests in the Vale and Heimdal fields dating back to 1971.
"With our background as a supplier to oil companies, we believe we can increase the diversity on the Norwegian shelf and contribute to an efficient overall exploitation of resources in smaller oil and gas fields," said Sverre Skogen, Aker Maritime chief executive.
Block 35/3 was first licensed in 1975 to Norway's Saga Petroleum but drilling results from five wells only revealed non-commercial quantities of gas. The block was relinquished in 1989. It will cost Aker Maritime and RWE-DEA about NKr100m to NKr150m ($11m-$16m) to drill one exploration well, planned for early next year
Another feature of the latest round was the small amount allocated to Norway's oil holding company, known as the State Direct Financial Interest, or SDFI.
The SDFI holds interests in 150 offshore licences, representing about 40 per cent of Norway's reserves. In this round, it received only 30 per cent in blocks 16/2 and 16/3.
Licences were also awarded to Norway's Statoil and Norsk Hydro, Conoco, Enterprise Oil, Phillips Petroleum, Agip, Chevron, Exxon Mobil, and Fortum.