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The exploration activities in the Barents Sea started as far back as 1907 with the first geological expedition to the Spitsbergen archipelago. Exploration for oil and gas started with the Kvadhuken well in 1961, followed by several other wells. Fina Exploration drilled two wells on the Island of Hopen in 1973. The NPD acquired the first seismic data in 1969. The universities collected seismic profiles from 1969 as part of the Continental Shelf Project.

The first licences in the Barents Sea were awarded in the 5th concession round in Norway in 1980. The results so far (2016) are two fields in production, Snøhvit and Goliat, and several in the evaluation phase.

The main exploration challenges in the Barents Sea are the Tertiary uplift and erosion of Jurassic and Cretaceous rocks, and the maturation of the source rocks due to the uplift. The discoveries Gotha and Alta in 2013–15 proved the Permian carbonate play. The awards in the 23rd concession round opened the Barents SE area bordering Russia. One well was drilled in 2017 with encouraging results and two more will be drilled in 2018.

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