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Fifty years since it all started

02/02/2015 This year marks 50 years since petroleum activities began in Norway. The boundaries of the shelf were laid out, and the first – and largest – licensing round was announced.

On 9 April 1965, the rules shaping petroleum activities on the Norwegian shelf were stipulated in a Royal Decree. Just four days later, the first licensing round was announced for 278 blocks in the North Sea, south of the 62nd parallel.

The announcement came two months after Norway and the United Kingdom had signed a treaty dividing the continental shelf according to the median line principle. A similar treaty was signed with Denmark on 8 December the same year.

At the end of the 1950s, Norwegian geologists had ruled out the possibility of oil and gas deposits off the Norwegian coast. However, the vast Groningen gas discovery in the Netherlands in 1959 caused many people to reconsider the possibility of finding petroleum under the seabed in the North Sea. First out was oil company Phillips Petroleum in the autumn of 1962 with a request to the authorities for permission to conduct geological surveys on the shelf. Several other international companies followed, with applications for exclusive rights to explore for oil in specific areas.

"Norway’s sovereignty over the Norwegian continental shelf for exploration and exploitation of subsea natural resources” was proclaimed in May 1963. This Act confirmed that the Norwegian State was the owner of the Norwegian continental shelf, and that only the Government could grant permission for exploration and production.

The first announcement received 11 applications, and 22 production licences for 78 blocks were awarded in August 1965. It took four more years before the first major oil discovery was made – Ekofisk.

Today, 79 fields are operating on the Norwegian continental shelf. Since the 1970s, the petroleum activities have contributed NOK 11 000 billion to Norway’s domestic product, measured in 2013-NOK.

The 23rd licensing round was announced on 20 January of this year, for 57 blocks and parts of blocks in all of the three maritime zones outside Norway.


Hand coloured fifty-year-old.
The first continental shelf map from 1965.

Updated: 27/11/2015