ON THE JOHAN SVERDRUP OIL PLATFORM IN THE NORTH SEA, Norvège (AFP) – Under yellow metal legs stretching beneath the sea, billions of dollars lie buried. As the world tries hard to halt global warming, a huge oil field breathes new life into Norway’s oil sector.
”Massive!”, exclaims a delighted Arne Sigve Nylund, the head of energy giant Equinor’s Norway operations.
”At its peak, it will represent approximately 25-30 percent of the total oil production from the Norwegian continental shelf,” he says as he takes reporters on a tour of the Johan Sverdrup oil field, hardhat firmly secured on his head.
Fifty years after the Scandinavian country first struck black gold, the field holds the promise of another half-century of oil business, despite growing opposition to fossil fuels.
That is music to the ears of Norway’s oil sector, hit by a continuous decline in production since the turn of the millennium and a drop in oil prices since 2014.
Johan Sverdrup – named after a Norwegian prime minister – means welcome jobs and investments.
According to Equinor, which is 67 percent owned by the Norwegian state, the field represents a windfall of 1.43 trillion kroner ($157 billion, 141 billion euros), with more than 900 billion due to end up in state coffers.
A windfall that almost ended up in other hands: Test drilling in the 1970s by French oil company Elf, now a part of Total, failed to find the oil field by just a few meters.
Norway’s King Harald will formally inaugurate the field in January, but production began back in early October and 350,000 barrels are already being pumped up each day.
That ”probably” makes it the most productive field in western Europe, according to the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.
When it hits its peak in late 2022, the field – which also includes companies Lundin of Sweden, Aker BP of Norway, and France’s Total – is expected to produce almost double that, or 660,000 barrels per day.
The installation – consisting of four platforms, soon to be five, connected by suspended walkways – are so large that workers use big blue three-wheeled scooters to get around.
The site is run on electricity from land, supplied by a 160-kilometer (100-mile) underwater cable.
And it’s clean energy, sourced from hydroelectric dams.
At the production stage, each barrel has a carbon footprint 25 times lower than the global average, says Rune Nedregaard, head of operations at Johan Sverdrup.
”That’s important in a climate perspective. Considering we do need oil, it’s important to produce that oil as efficiently as possible.”
But climate change knows no borders, and when the oil is burned, it is just as polluting as any other petrol, argue environmental activists.
Johan Sverdrup’s recoverable reserves of 2.7 billion barrels represent more than 20 times Norway’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions, they say.
”It’s the oil policies that lay the groundwork for climate policy, and it should be the other way around,” charges the head of the Norwegian branch of Friends of the Earth, Silje Ask Lundberg.