The Norwegian continental shelf covers an area of more than two million square kilometres (2 039 951 km2). This is almost 6 times the land area of mainland Norway, Svalbard and Jan Mayen.
Petroleum activities on the Norwegian shelf started 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 with 66 fields in production at the end of 2016. In addition, there are 17 fields in production in the Norwegian Sea and two (Snøhvit and Goliat) in the Barents Sea.
Each of these areas is divided into quadrants corresponding to a degree of longitude and latitude. Each quadrant is further divided into twelve blocks. The quadrants in the North Sea are numbered from one to 36, while those in the Norwegian Sea and Barents Sea are named by the degree of longitude and latitude.
The North Sea covers an area of 142 000 km2, and the success story of Norwegian oil and gas started 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 66 fields in production in the North Sea.
The North Sea is subdivided into three areas: southern, central and northern.
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. The Ekofisk complex is a hub for petroleum activities in this area, and many fields are tied in to the Ekofisk infrastructure for onward transport.
Oil and gas from fields in this area are transported by ship or pipeline to onshore facilities in the UK and continental Europe.
Central North Sea
The first oil discovery on the Norwegian continental shelf was made in this area. The Balder field was proven as early as 1967, but 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. Several fields in this area have recently started production or are under development. The Johan Sverdrup field is the fifth largest oil discovery ever made on the Norwegian shelf. The field is being develop in several stages and the production is expected to start in the autumn of 2019.
The Sleipner facilities are also an important hub in the gas transport system on the Norwegian shelf. Gas is transported by pipeline to onshore facilities. The different pipeline systems are linked to onshore facilities in Norway, the UK and continental Europe. Oil from this part of the North Sea is transported by tanker.
Northern North Sea
There are two main areas in the northern North Sea: the Tampen area, including Statfjord, Gullfaks and Snorre fields, and Oseberg/Troll area. 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. Plans are being made to extend the lifetime of fields that have already been producing for a long time in this part of the North Sea, such as Snorre.
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 2017.
Oil from this part of the Norwegian shelf is transported by tanker; the rest, like the gas, is delivered by pipelines to onshore facilities in Norway or abroad.
The Norwegian Sea is twice as large as the North Sea, covering an area of 289 000 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 17 fields in production. The Maria field came on stream in 2017, and the fields Aasta Hansteen, Dvalin, Bauge and Trestakk are under development. The Polarled gas pipeline has been installed and will connect Aasta Hansteen to the pipeline transportation system. Polarled 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 Norwegian part of the Barents Sea covers an area of 313 000 km2, and is the largest sea area on the Norwegian continental shelf. The Barents Sea is also the sea area with the largest hydrocarbon potential. Only the area south of 74° 30’ N is open for petroleum activities.
The only fields in production in the Barents Sea are Snøhvit and Goliat, which came on stream in 2007 and 2016, respectively. Gas from Snøhvit is transported by pipeline to the Melkøya onshore facility, where it is processed and cooled down to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG), which is delivered to the markets on special LNG vessels. Produced oil and gas from Goliat are transported onto a Floating Production Storage & Offloading (FPSO), where the oil is processed, stabilised and stored for further export in tankers, while the gas is reinjected into the reservoir.
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. It is estimated that approximately half of the undiscovered resources on the Norwegian continental shelf are in the Barents Sea.
In the 23rd licensing round, new licences were awarded in the southwest area of the Barents Sea that has recently been opened for petroleum activity.