The Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) consists of vast areas with many different petroleum basins, stretching from the arctic archipelago of Svalbard in the north to the Danish border in the south. Petroleum activity started almost 50 years ago in the North Sea, which is the most explored area. The first year of production from the North Sea was 1971.

The NCS is divided into three sub-areas: the North Sea in the south, the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea to the north. The continental shelf has gradually been opened for petroleum activity, in stages based on geological knowledge and technical experience. Most of the Norwegian petroleum production comes from the huge fields in the North Sea. Recent exploration shows that significant discoveries still can be made in this area.

Exploration started in the deep water areas in the Norwegian Sea in 1995, and several discoveries have since been made. So far, only the Ormen Lange gas field is in production. Considerable areas with untested potential still remain unexplored. In the western part of the Vøring and Møre Basin, the sub-basalt geological play requires a technological breakthrough.

Several discoveries have been made in the southern part of the Barents Sea. So far, the Snøhvit gas field is the only producing field. There are several unproven geological plays in this area, and nine exploration wells are planned in 2011.

Both the Ormen Lange and Snøhvit fields are developed with subsea installations and transport to shore made possible by technological breakthroughs.

In areas not yet opened for petroleum activity, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) estimates that there are considerable amounts of petroleum resources, both in the northern part of the Barents Sea and off the Lofoten and Vesterålen archipelagos in the Norwegian Sea.

Data is also needed to estimate potential resources in the areas near Jan Mayen and in the eastern part of the Barents Sea, which will be a part of the NCS. Over the next two years, the NPD will acquire seismic data in the northern areas.

Opening of new areas requires political decisions.

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