The North Sea: New times, new methods and new opportunities


Director general Ingrid Sølvberg visits a platform in the North Sea. Photo: Jon Ingemundsen.

23/06/2020 More than 50 years have passed since the first commercial discovery of oil was made in the North Sea. The gigantic Johan Sverdrup field – which started production in 2019 – will produce for the next 50 years according to plan.

There are still vast remaining resources on the Norwegian Shelf, and there is a high level of activity in the North Sea – both within exploration, development and operation.

That said, many things have changed since the beginning of the oil adventure , particularly in recent years:

  • Greater focus on reuse and the environment
  • Increasing digitalisation
  • New technology is developed and implemented
  • New forms of cooperation in the industry

The North Sea is still viable

We have spoken with people in three companies that have activities on the Norwegian Shelf and one of our own exploration experts. All of them confirm that the North Sea is still interesting.

At the same time, they point out the great importance of reusing platforms, pipelines and equipment that is already in place.

In order to reuse, we must explore. We asked Wenche Tjelta Johansen – Assistant director exploration at the NPD – why it is still important to search for oil and gas in the North Sea, and what so-called “near-infrastructure exploration” means.

She tells us that 10 of the 17 discoveries made on the Norwegian Shelf in 2019, were in the North Sea:

Long lifetime

One of the most important events in the North Sea in 2019 was the opening of the gigantic Johan Sverdrup field. The field is developed with solutions that will last for a long time and are operated using power from shore. That means extremely low CO2 emissions from production.

In the video interview, Therese Bjarke from Equinor talks about this milestone in Norwegian oil and gas history. She also talks about jobs, positive ripple effects and value creation for society:

Entrepreneurship and innovation are words frequently used to describe the work taking place in the North Sea. Norway leads the world within several aspects of the oil and gas industry, including the supplier industry.

Interaction is alpha and omega

Lars Høier from Aker BP is focused on good forms of cooperation across all players and professional disciplines. He also commends the interaction between the authorities and the companies on the Norwegian Shelf, and the advantage of stable framework conditions and a long-term perspective.

Høier points out that building strategic alliances is important when it comes to creating value for society:

New life for shutdown fields

Reuse of platforms and pipelines and improvements on existing fields are also topics in the conversation with Tor Inge Hansen from ConocoPhillips. He represents a company that has worked on the Norwegian Shelf for more than 50 years, and which made the first commercial oil discovery.

Hansen still sees significant development opportunities for what he calls “Greater Ekofisk” (link to, which includes the Ekofisk, Eldfisk and Embla fields. He also talks about the Tor field in the same area. It was shut down a few years ago, but is being redeveloped as Tor II.

NB! Video clips were shot before the corona pandemic reached Norway.


Facts about oil and gas in the North Sea

The oil fairy-tale began in the North Sea – and this sea area is still the engine driving Norwegian petroleum activity. The first commercial oil discovery was made in 1969.

The North Sea is the most mature part of the Shelf as regards petroleum activity, and it is also the area where the most oil and gas has been discovered and produced.

About the North Sea

  • Situated between Norway, Great Britain and the Continent
  • The Norwegian part of the North Sea comprises an area of 142,000 square kilometres

  • 66 producing fields at the beginning of 2020

  • Around 44 per cent of the remaining oil and gas resources are found here

  • The first oil discovery on the Norwegian Shelf was made in the central part of the North Sea
    • 1967: The Balder field was proven, but was not developed until 30 years later

    • 1969: The oil fairy-tale starts in earnest with the discovery of Ekofisk
      • The field has produced for more than 45 years, current plans call for the field to produce for another 30 years
      • Many fields are tied in to the infrastructure on Ekofisk for further transport of oil and gas to Great Britain and the European Continent

  • The North Sea stands out from the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea as regards activity – here we have the entire spectrum:
    • New fields are opened, such as Johan Sverdrup
    • Fields are being shut down, such as Knarr
    • Wells are drilled simultaneously with removal of old equipment, such as Ekofisk

  • Johan Sverdrup is the fifth largest oil discovery ever made on the Norwegian Shelf
    • The giant field will be developed in several phases, and production from the first phase started in autumn 2019
    • After just a few months, the field produced 350,000 barrels of oil every day

  • The Sleipner facilities are a hub in the gas transport system on the Norwegian Shelf. The gas is transported through pipelines to facilities on land

  • The northern part of the North Sea is one of the most important areas on the Shelf with huge fields such as Statfjord, Gullfaks, Snorre, Oseberg and Troll
    • Lifetimes have been extended with new facilities and new measures to improve recovery on several of the fields in the area

  • The Troll field is extremely important for gas supply from the Norwegian Shelf, and it is also a significant oil field
    • Oil from this part of the Shelf is transported by ship, or – as gas – through pipelines to land facilities in Norway or abroad.

More information

Resource Report 2019, discoveries and fields – the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate 

Resource Report 2018, exploration – the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate 

The shelf in 2019 – the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate 

Resources per sea area,


Norwegian Petroleum Directorate,, Store norske leksikon (in Norwegian only)

Updated: 24/06/2020

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