Can Norway help Europe reduce reliance on Russian gas?

Norway, Europe's second-biggest supplier of natural gas, on Wednesday announced steps to keep its gas production at maximum levels to help Europe reduce its dependency on Russian gas.

a Norwegian gas platform in the North Sea
A file photo of a Norwegian gas platform in the North Sea. Photo: DANIEL SANNUM LAUTEN / AFP

The Norwegian Petroleum and Energy Ministry agreed to adjust the production licences of three offshore fields — Oseberg, Troll and Heidrun — so that they can prioritise gas production over oil.

The measures “will not increase the daily total Norwegian gas production significantly, but will contribute towards maintaining today’s high export volumes of Norwegian gas”, the ministry said.

Norway covers between 20 and 25 percent of the European Union’s and Britain’s gas needs, while Russia accounts for between 45 and 50 percent.

Since the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the EU has sought to reduce its Russian gas imports by two-thirds.

Norway’s gas exports are however squeezed by production capacities, already churning at maximum levels, and the distribution system via pipelines. 

Norway’s sole liquified natural gas (LNG) unit, which makes it possible to deliver gas by ship in liquid form, was damaged in a fire in September 2020.

Located in Hammerfest in northern Norway, it will be back in service by mid-May, according to its operator, energy giant Equinor, making it possible to then increase export volumes.

According to Equinor, adjusting the production licences at the Oseberg field will make it possible to export an additional 1 billion cubic metres up to September 30th, when maintenance work is scheduled to be conducted.

The Heidrun field will meanwhile be able to increase its deliveries by 0.4 million cubic metres in the full year 2022.

Equinor said that “1.4 billion cubic metres of gas meets the gas demands of around 1.4 million European homes during a year”.

The Troll field has meanwhile been authorised to increase its production by up to 1 billion cubic metres in the event of loss of production from other fields.

To take advantage of the record-breaking high gas prices lately, Equinor had already obtained an adjustment on the production permits for Oseberg and Troll last year.

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Norway says it hasn’t breached treaty by blocking Russian cargo to Svalbard

Norway is not breaching a century-old treaty covering the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard by blocking Russian cargo to the islands, the country's foreign minister said Wednesday after Moscow threatened retaliatory measures.

Norway says it hasn't breached treaty by blocking Russian cargo to Svalbard

“Norway does not violate the Svalbard Treaty,” foreign minister Anniken Huitfeldt told AFP. “Norway does not try to put obstacles in the way of supplies” to a Russian coal mining settlement in the area, she said, after Russia’s foreign ministry said it had summoned Norway’s charge d’affaires over the issue.

Moscow accused Norway of disrupting the work of the Russian consulate general on Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago. Norway has sovereignty over Svalbard but allows citizens of more than 40 countries to exploit the islands’ potentially vast resources on an equal footing.

Moscow has long wanted a bigger say in the archipelago — which it insists on calling Spitsbergen rather than the Norwegian Svalbard – which has been a haunt of its hunters, whalers and fishermen since the 16th century. The Svalbard Treaty handing sovereignty to Norway was signed in 1920.

Huitfeldt argued the shipment that was stopped at the Norwegian-Russian border “has been stopped on the basis of the sanctions that prohibit Russian road transport companies from transporting goods on Norwegian territory”.

Goods transport “does not have to go via mainland Norway by Russian truck”, she said, suggesting other solutions could be found to supply the mining community.

Svalbard was exempt from a ban on port calls by Russian-flagged vessels, “and we have clearly signalled our willingness to consider a dispensation from the flight ban”, the minister said.

The situation in the town of Barentsburg, home to the Russian miners, was “normal”, she said.

“Residents have access to food and medicine,” Huitfeldt said. “It is not Norwegian policy to try to force Russian companies or citizens away from Svalbard, or to put obstacles in the way of the business that takes place in accordance with Norwegian laws and regulations.

“At the same time, Norway’s necessary reaction to Russia’s war in Ukraine may also have practical consequences for Russian companies on Svalbard, as in Norway in general,” Huitfeldt said.