In the 50 years since Norwegian petroleum activities began, about 47 per cent of the estimated total recoverable resources on the continental shelf have been produced and sold. Thus, there are large remaining resources, and it is expected that the level of activity on the Norwegian shelf will continue to be high for the next 50 years as well.
The production (well stream) from different reservoirs contains oil, gas and water in various combinations. To get marketable products, the production from the reservoirs must be separated and treated. The production from different reservoirs varies from oil with low gas content to almost dry gas (methane with only small amounts of other gases).
Crude oil is a fluid that is a combination of different types of hydrocarbons. The composition varies from field to field, and the quality of the oil, including how light or heavy (viscous) the oil is, depends on the composition of the hydrocarbons as well as the contents of other substances, such as wax and sulphur.
Rich gas, or crude natural gas, is a mixture of various gases. When necessary, the gas is separated from the oil before the rich gas is treated in a processing facility that separates the dry and wet gas components. Dry gas is often referred to as natural gas, and consists mainly of methane, but also a little ethane.
Wet gas, or NGL (Natural Gas Liquids), consists of a mixture of heavier gases (ethane, propane, butanes and naphtha). In addition there are heavier condensates which some classify as a separate product. Naphtha and condensate are liquid at room temperature, while the lighter wet gas components can be made liquid either by cooling or by adding pressure.
Not all gas that is produced is sold. Some of the gas is used to generate power on the fields, and small amounts are flared for safety purposes. On some fields, gas is reinjected into the reservoirs. Reinjection is often used to maintain reservoir pressure and displace the oil. This results in efficient recovery of the oil, and the gas is stored for possible recovery in the future.
In 2018, Norway produced 226.7 million Sm³ of marketable oil equivalents (Sm³ o.e.). By way of comparison, total production was 236.16 million Sm³ o.e. in 2017 and 264.2 million Sm³ o.e. in the record year of 2004.
Oil production was six per cent lower in 2018 than in the previous year. The natural decline in production from mature fields has not been compensated for by new fields coming on stream.
Gas production was high in 2018. Total sales of gas amounted to 121.7 billion Sm³ (119.3 billion Sm³ 40 megajoules of gas), about two per cent lower than in 2017. In 2018, natural gas accounted for just above 50 per cent of the total production by oil equivalents.
Historical production figures and production forecasts split by product type category are shown in the figure below.
Historical and expected production in Norway, 1970-2023
Source: Norwegian Petroleum Directorate
The production profile of a typical oil field shows a rapid increase to a maximum production rate, then a stable period of high production (the plateau phase), followed by a gradual decline in production. Without further investments, oil production will decline rapidly, and even with considerable investment to improve recovery, it can be difficult to maintain production from a field.
Without new fields or large-scale investments on existing fields, oil production from the Norwegian shelf would continue to decline as it did from 2001 to 2013. Given the high level of development activity in recent years, production is expected to remain relatively stable for the next few years and will increase from the early 2020s. Production from new fields that come on stream will compensate for the decline in production from aging fields. The future production level is uncertain, however. It depends on initiatives that are implemented on the fields, discoveries that are decided to be developed, and when they come on stream. New discoveries, how large they are, and how and when they are developed will also affect the production level.
The figure below shows total historical production and production forecasts until 2030, distributed by maturity of the resources.
Production history and forecast distributed per resource category, 2010-2030
Source: Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (Gas is given in 40 MJ)