Norway’s Petroleum & Energy Ministry is seeking suitable research projects to qualify for funding as part of a planned Arctic centre that is intended to develop specialist expertise for exploitation of the prospective northern region.

The centre, aimed at building up a research and development environment for Arctic innovation, is due to be launched next year with combined annual funding of Nkr10 million ($1.75 million) from both the energy and foreign ministries.

The Norwegian Research Council is now making funds available for R&D projects focusing on one or more of three categories identified by the industry as key areas for research:

•Evaluation and reduction of environmental risk from oil activity.

•Development of new exploration methods and knowledge of geological processes in relatively unknown areas.

•Assessment of risks and challenges of field development operations in extreme climatic conditions.

“The commitment to northern areas is the number-one priority for the government. Knowledge about oil exploitation in the north is good for the environment and at the same time will contribute to increased employment and value creation – not only in the north, but in the whole country,” said Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide.

Meanwhile, the Petroleum & Energy Ministry has issued for consultation plans to extend its 2013 Awards in Pre-defined Areas (APA) licensing round with the inclusion of an additional six blocks over mature areas in the northern part of the Norwegian Sea.

Comments on the proposed expansion of the round are being invited by a submission deadline of 19 December.

The ministry is set to present later this month the results of intelligence gathering work in the eco-sensitive north-east Norwegian Sea covering controversial blocks off Lofoten and Vesteraalen, where environmentalists are opposed to oil activity as they fear an oil spill would destroy wildlife and ruin the staple fishing industry in the pristine region.

The coalition government has previously shelved an impact assessment study of the region – seen as a precursor to a licensing round – for its current term that expires in autumn 2013 but opened the way for seismic work to evaluate resource potential and an assessment of the likely effects of oil activity.

However, Norway’s United Federation of Trade Unions (Fellesforbundet) is pressing for the Nordland VI block to be opened for exploration next autumn and for an impact assessment study for the Nordland VII and Troms II blocks to be ready in 2014 under a proposal to the congress of labour organisation LO, Klassekampen newspaper reported.

“No area along the coastline shall be ring-fenced for the longer term. Vi should exploit resources in step with knowledge, technology and competence,” said Fellesforbundet leader Arve Bakke, adding that exploitation of resource should be done in a sustainable manner to safeguard the natural environment.