Global Policy Forum

Norway's $186 Billion Gas Loss to Cement Russian Grip on Supply


Norway's dwindling supply of natural gas may produce shortfalls across Europe as soon as 2015. Royal Dutch Shell, an oil and gas company, cut its estimates of gas yet to be discovered in Norway by 31 percent. Norway is Europe's second largest gas supplier behind Russia. Increased reliance on Russia for natural gas complicates European energy security. But, increasing vulnerability may lead to a positive outcome - greater European development of renewable energy sources.




By Marianne Stigset and Ben Farey

January 13, 2011


Europe may face a shortfall of Norwegian natural gas as soon as 2015 after the country slashed its estimate for undiscovered resources because of a dearth of discoveries from companies such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

Europe's second-largest supplier yesterday cut its estimate for gas yet to be discovered by 31 percent, or 570 billion cubic meters. That's equal to more than five years of production at current rates and would be valued at about $186 billion based on today's prices at the U.K's trading hub.

"This will rack up the pressure on the European Union to develop and secure access to reliable energy," Thina Saltvedt, an analyst at Nordea Markets in Oslo, said by e-mail. "The EU will be forced to increase imports from the Middle East and Africa to compensate for and reduce Russia's domination."

Shell, Statoil ASA and other companies have been finding smaller and smaller amounts or striking out in drilling off Norway, casting in doubt Norway's status as reliable supplier of the fuel and its goal of transforming itself into a gas nation as oil production slumps. The troubles may help Russia, Europe's biggest supplier, cement its grip on the market and provide an opening to exporters from the Middle East, where Qatar has become the largest producer of liquefied natural gas.

"It is the estimates for the gas resources in the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea that have been written down," Bente Nyland, head of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, said yesterday in an interview in Stavanger, estimating a potential decline in gas production after 2015. "Our gas production will go down and other countries will pass us by."

Undiscovered Gas

Norway's undiscovered gas resources may total 1.26 trillion cubic meters, down from an estimated 1.82 trillion cubic meters last year. The country had total gas proven reserves of 2 trillion cubic meters in 2009.

As fields in the North Sea become depleted four decades after Norway first discovered oil, companies are moving north into the Norwegian Sea and the Arctic Barents Sea. Norway is counting on gas output to make up for declining oil production, which has dropped 50 percent in the past decade.

The "revised estimate of undiscovered reserves should be taken seriously, although it should also be remembered that it's part of their job to be ultra-cautious in assessing the nation's future hydrocarbons wealth," said Patrick Heren, founder of European price-information service ICIS Heren. The implication may be that exporters in Central Asia or the Middle East will find it easier to sell their gas in Europe, he said.


Statoil, Norway's biggest oil and gas producer, has a goal of maintaining Norwegian production at current levels until 2020, which Chief Executive Officer Helge Lund on Nov. 3 called "ambitious."

"Our goal hasn't changed from what we've previously communicated," Statoil spokesman Ola Anders Skauby said today. "The 2020 target is based in large part on discovered resources. The Norwegian shelf is definitely still interesting to Statoil."

Shell drilled a dry well at the Dalsnuten prospect in the Norwegian Sea in November, a further blow to its nearby Gro discovery. An appraisal well at Gro had earlier indicated the find could be at the lower end of the 10 billion to 100 billion cubic meters estimate. Total SA also reduced the size of its Victoria field after more drilling in 2009.

Ormen Lange

"The fact that Gro didn't deliver means that other surrounding prospects also decline and thereby the totality is gone," said Nyland. "The question is whether Statoil will find profitability in the gas discoveries they've made."

Shell last year had to cut the estimated reserves at its Ormen Lange field, Europe's third largest, by 24 percent to about 302 billion cubic meters.

Norway may have to pin its hopes on the Barents Sea, where it's preparing to map out an exploration area after reaching a maritime border agreement with Russia in September. Some seven to eight exploration wells are expected this year in the area, where there has been little exploration to date. So far this year, Eni SpA on Jan. 5 announced a dry well near its Goliat field in the Barents Sea, the directorate said on Jan. 5.

Norway estimates the Barents Sea holds 520 billion cubic meters and the Norwegian Sea 455 billion cubic meters in undiscovered gas resources.

"Most geologists are more optimistic than the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate about the prospects for large gas discoveries in the Arctic, where the Russians have already made a colossal find at Shtokman," Heren said.


FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.