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* Seismic survey is first conducted in zone by industry
* First offshore zone open to exploration since 1994
* Norway's Polarcus to participate - CEO
By Henrik Stolen
OSLO, Dec 10 (Reuters) - Seventeen oil companies, including most of the majors, are teaming up to map the seabed in an Arctic offshore zone once disputed by Russia and Norway, showing their eagerness to explore for oil in the remote region.
Despite recent setbacks such as the grounding of Royal Dutch Shell's drillship off Alaska, energy firms remain keen to explore for crude in the area, which the U.S. Geological Survey estimates to hold 90 billion barrels of oil.
The new area on the Norwegian side, which is as large as Switzerland, is being opened to energy firms following a border deal between Oslo and Moscow in 2010. It is the first area to be opened off Norway in nearly two decades.
The Norwegian Oil Directorate had already mapped some of the area. But on Tuesday, the Norwegian oil industry lobby said 17 oil firms would cooperate in commissioning more surveys of the seabed.
They are: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips , Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Lukoil, Idemitsu, Repsol, Det norske, Wintershall, Suncor, VNG, PGNiG , Spike, Statoil, GDF Suez and Lundin Petroleum.
Tendering will begin immediately, with surveying starting in April next year and concluding in the autumn, Statoil said in a separate statement.
Norwegian seismic surveyor Polarcus said it would participate in the tender, which might be big enough to secure work for two or three seismic vessels that search for oil and gas deposits under the sea.
"This means there will be a lot of work coming up in the eastern part of the Barents Sea," Chief Executive Rolf Roenningen told Reuters.