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Major Petroleum Province in the North

Cost cutting initiatives and new technology are paving the way for the Northern Norwegian Sea and Barents Sea to become the next major petroleum province on the shelf.

The fall in North Sea output, combined with more oil and gas finds and production in Northern Norway, will propel the Barents Sea and Northern Norwegian Sea regions to become the largest contributor to Norway’s petroleum production by the end of 2030. According to the Rystad Energy report, “Petro Foresight 2030”, presented this February in Oslo, output here will supersede that of the North Sea and Southern Norwegian Sea fields combined within the next few decades.

The Norwegian energy consultant forecasts the number of petroleum field projects in the Norwegian North Sea and Barents Sea and land terminals in Finnmark could rise from three to nine by 2040, spurring NOK 70 billion in annual investments and operating costs from 2020. Among the most promising are potential modification and satellite projects at petroleum fields Aasta Hansteen, Norne, Skarv, Goliat, and Snøhvit, new field developments at Johan Castberg, Wisting, and Barents Sea South East, an oil terminal at Veidnes, and an oil spill base either in Lofoten or Vesterålen.


Goliat is the first oil field to start production in the Barents Sea. Source: Eni Norge/ News On Request AS


Italy’s Eni recently started production at Goliat, Norway’s first oil field development in the Barents Sea and the world’s northernmost offshore field. After two years of delays and 50% in cost increases, the floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) unit started oil production at Goliat this March. The field is expected to produce 100,000 barrels per day.

Fields in the North have been a challenge to develop partly because of the high costs associated with developing in the Arctic combined with low oil prices. Now there is an encouraging trend towards lower break-even prices on projects, with an average of 16% reduction since December 2014, according to Rystad. OMV’s Wisting oil field development, for example — which is even farther north than Goliat — has dropped 35% to a breakeven of $67. Statoil’s giant, Johan Castberg development in the Barents Sea has also fallen by about a third to $45.

“The Barents Sea is as competitive as the rest of the (Norwegian Continental) shelf,” said Kjell Gjæver, Petro Arctic director, at the packed seminar hosted by Rystad on northern Norway oil activities.

The Norwegian organization, along with Pro Barents, Innovation Park North, Innovation Park Bodø and Innovation Norway, produced the Petro Foresight 2030 report based on Rystad’s analysis.

Operator Statoil plans to develop the Johan Castberg field in the Barents Sea for oil production by 2022. Source: Statoil ASA


Norway’s Statoil recently revealed that it had been able to revive development plans for Johan Castberg based on a FPSO solution. Statoil chief executive Eldar Sætre announced at the Norwegian Petroleum Society’s annual oil conference in Sandefjord last January that it had cut project costs in half by NOK 50-60 billion. The oil field development was previously considered a cost challenge with the oil price sinking to below $30 per barrel and a possible need for a land-based terminal.

“We have had a huge cost reduction by reducing equipment and complexity,” said Kristian Aas, Statoil hull leader Johan Castberg floater, at INTSOK Floating Production Conference 2016 in Oslo last March.

Partners in the Johan Castberg development originally thought the field contained about one billion barrels. But after a drilling campaign showed only half of those reserves, roughly 450-650 million barrels, the license partners opted to drop a semi-submersible platform solution with an accompanying land terminal in favor of a less expensive FPSO concept for possible start-up in 2022.

The decision has paid off. According to Aas, the switch to a FPSO reduced the cost of the project by 24%. In addition, a 16% savings on the floater itself was achieved by removing some topside equipment, using less generators and shortening the FPSO, and shaved a further 19% off by simplifying the pipeline and reducing the number of subsea structures.

“This has led to a reduction in the number of wells and path optimization. It is a simpler subsea solution,” said Aas.


The Petro Foresight 2030 report believes part of the key to strengthening the future competitiveness of the Barents Sea will be new drilling technology. There are several technological areas that are particularly demanding when drilling and producing in low pressure and low temperature reservoirs. These include horizontal drilling, artificial lift, water injection and subsea systems over spread out wells.

One example is the Sandnes-based Fishbones, which has developed a stimulation system that can be used to increase productivity. It uses small diameter laterals that jet out from the wellbore – hence the name Fishbones – that connect the well to the reservoir with up to 300 laterals and allows stimulation of several zones with different pressure regimes.

The technology has been used successfully in the US on tight limestone formations and was implemented for the first time on the Norwegian Continental Shelf last year on Statoil’s Smørbukk South Extension. By drilling 150 “fishbones” each 10-12 meters in length from the main well at Smørbukk South, Statoil was able to tap a reservoir with low permeability previously regarded as unfeasible.

Another technology that has potential for Norway’s Northern areas is NeoDrill’s Conductor Anchor Node (CAN) technology. The CAN-ductor (CAN with integrated conductor) enables the operator to kick-off much shallower than possible with a conventional conductor, entering the reservoir horizontally. This offers substantial cost savings as the conductor is installed prior to rig arrival, cutting 3-4 days off the rig plan.

NeoDrill’s technological solution was recently used to drill Wisting Central II, the first horizontal appraisal well in the Barents Sea and a new drilling record as the shallowest horizontal offshore well ever drilled from a floating drilling facility, according to operator OMV. NeoDrill enabled the well to be drilled horizontally at only 250 meters below the seabed using the CAN-ductor, which provided a stable foundation for the well and BOP (blow out preventer) stack.

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