The Norwegian continental shelf covers an area of more than two million square kilometres (2 039 951 km2). This is almost 6.5 times the land area of mainland Norway, Svalbard and Jan Mayen.
Petroleum activities on the Norwegian shelf began in the North Sea, and have gradually expanded northwards. Since 1980, there has also been activity in the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea. The North Sea is still the powerhouse of the Norwegian petroleum industry, and 65 fields were in production at the end of 2015. In addition, there are 16 fields in production in the Norwegian Sea and one (Snøhvit) in the Barents Sea.
Each of these areas is divided into quadrants measuring one degree of longitude by one degree of latitude. The quadrants in the North Sea are numbered from 1 to 36, while those in the Norwegian Sea and Barents Sea are numbered by longitude and latitude. Each quadrant is further divided into 12 Blocks.
The North Sea covers an area of 142 000 km2 and the success story of Norwegian oil and gas began here. This is the most thoroughly explored part of the Norwegian shelf, and the area that has produced most oil and gas. There are now 65 fields in production in the North Sea.
The North Sea is subdivided into three areas: southern, central and Northern.
The southern North Sea
Norway’s oil era started in earnest in the southern North Sea, with the discovery of Ekofisk in 1969. Ekofisk has now been producing for more than 45 years, and according to current plans, production will continue for another 40 years. There are still considerable remaining resources in this area.
Ekofisk is a hub for petroleum activities in this area, and many fields are tied in to the infrastructure on Ekofisk for onward transport. Oil and gas from these fields is transported by ship or pipeline to onshore facilities in the UK and continental Europe.
The central North Sea
The first oil discovery on the Norwegian continental shelf was made in this area. Balder was proven as early as 1967, but was not developed until 30 years later.
The first development in the area was the Frigg gas field, which came on stream in 1977 and produced for nearly 30 years until it was shut down in 2004. There is now considerable development activity around the Utsira High, where the fields Ivar Aasen and Johan Sverdrup are being developed. The Johan Sverdrup field is the fifth largest oil discovery ever made on the Norwegian shelf. A plan for development and operation (PDO) for Johan Sverdrup was submitted to the authorities in February 2015, and approved in August the same year. Production is expected to start towards the end of 2019.
The Sleipner fields are also an important hub in the gas transport system on the Norwegian shelf. Gas is transported by pipeline to onshore facilities. The pipelines are linked to onshore facilities in Norway, the UK and continental Europe. Oil from this part of the North Sea is transported by tanker.
The northern North Sea
There are two main areas in the northern North Sea: the Tampen area, including Statfjord, Gullfaks and Snorre, and Oseberg/Troll. It is more than 30 years since oil and gas production started here. The area is considered to be rich in resources and production is expected to continue for at least another 30 years.
Troll is the cornerstone of Norway’s offshore gas production and will be the main exporter of Norwegian gas exports for several decades to come. Troll was also the field on the Norwegian shelf that produced most oil in 2015.
Several fields in this area have recently started production or are under development. Plans are also being made to extend the lifetime of fields that have already been producing for a long time, such as Snorre.
Some oil from this part of the Norwegian shelf is transported by tanker; the rest, like the gas, is delivered by pipeline to onshore facilities in Norway or abroad.
The Norwegian Sea is twice as large as the North Sea, covering an area of 287 000 km2. This petroleum province has large gas reserves, and is less mature and less thoroughly explored than the North Sea. The only exception is the Halten Bank, where production started over 20 years ago.
Draugen was the first field to start producing in this area, in 1993. There are now 16 fields in production. The oil field Maria and the gas field Aasta Hansteen is under development. The gas pipeline, Polarled, will connect Aasta Hansteen to the pipeline transportation system. The pipeline will extend the Norwegian gas transport system north of the Arctic Circle for the first time.
Gas from the Norwegian Sea is largely transported by pipeline to various onshore facilities in Norway and onwards to the UK and continental Europe. Oil is transported by tanker (buoy-loaded on the fields).
The Barents Sea is the largest area of the Norwegian continental shelf, covering 313 000 km2. The Barents Sea South (south of 74o30’ N) has been opened for petroleum activities, but the Barents Sea North has not.
The only field in production in the Barents Sea is Snøhvit, which came on stream in 2007. Gas from Snøhvit is transported by pipeline to the Melkøya onshore facility, where it is processed and cooled to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is delivered to the markets on specialised LNG carriers.
The oil field Goliat is under development and after some delays the field is expected to come on stream in 2016.
Most of the Barents Sea is considered to be a frontier petroleum province, even though there have been exploration activities here for more than 30 years, and the first discovery was made in the early 1980s. The 23rd licensing round, which was announced in January 2015, includes 54 blocks in the Barents Sea, many of them in the previously disputed area west of the delimitation line between Norway and Russia. For the first time for more than 20 years, this licensing round includes completely new and unexplored areas.