OSLO, Norway -- Norway's Statoil (IW 1000/26) has not yet found a viable gas field in the world's northernmost drilling sites, the country's oil industry administrative body said Tuesday, in a new blow for Arctic exploration.

The Atlantis well, at a latitude of 74 degrees North, contains only a noncommercial volume of gas according to the first estimates, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate said in a statement.

It is the second disappointment for Statoil in the so-called Hoop area, located far north in the Norwegian waters of the Barents Sea.

In June, the group announced that the Apollo well, the most northerly well ever drilled in Norway, was dry.

Melting ice has attracted energy companies to the region, which the U.S. Geological Survey estimated in 2008 hides 22% of the world's undiscovered fossil fuel reserves.

But exploration has faced fierce opposition from environmental groups such as Greenpeace, whose activists have boarded ships in a bid to prevent drilling near sensitive natural sites.

Exploration is also complicated by extreme weather and the long distances to land, making the region less attractive at a time when large deposits of nonconventional fuels are coming onstream.

"It's a region that remains largely unexplored," Statoil spokesman Knut Rostad said. "Statoil is there for the long-term. We still consider the Barents Sea as a very exciting region."

Statoil is about to begin drilling the Mercury well, its third and last in the Hoop area, some 12 miles from a spot where oil was detected last year.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2014