OSLO (Reuters) - Norway has set a new definition on where the edge of the Arctic ice lies, the environment minister said on Tuesday, clearing the way for the government to launch its Arctic-focused oil and gas licensing round as early as this week.
The ice edge has been retreating for years and is now outside areas being considered for oil and gas exploration, environment minister Tine Sundtoft told news agency NTB.
A debate over the limit of the ice edge has delayed the launch of the new licensing round as some political parties argued that ice could in extreme cases reach into future exploration blocks, creating a safety hazard.
Norwegian energy firms, led by Statoil, have been active in the Arctic for decades, as its waters, warmed by the Gulf Stream, are relatively ice free.
However, the government rules in a minority and some of its outside backers have disputed ice edge definition, likely making it difficult for the government to conduct the licensing round under the new definition.
Sundtoft said previous definitions have been based on data collected between 1967 and 1989, while the new limits are based on data from 1984 to 2013.
Norway plans to offer blocks to energy firms in the eastern part of its Barents Sea, where Norway settled a 40-year border dispute with Russia.
The government's new definition puts the edge of the winter sea ice, measured at its maximum extent in April, 60 to 70 kilometers north of areas opened to the oil and gas industry, the minister said.
(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi; Editing by David Holmes)