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n 16 May, Norway’s largest oil company officially changed its name from Statoil to Equinor. Equinor is a portmanteau standing for the values of equity and equilibrium (equi), while representing the group’s country of origin (nor). 

While the change in name alone is unlikely to convince environmentalists that parties dealing in the black stuff can ever truly be eco-friendly, for others it represents an admirable declaration of intent from a company seeking to make good on its renewable promises.

Further to operating Hywind Scotland, the first floating wind farm in the world, this May also saw Equinor reveal it had commenced laying the cable that will supply power from onshore to the Johan Sverdrup oilfield.

Starting from the Johan Sverdrup converter station at Haugsneset near Kårstø, Rogaland in western Norway, more than 200km of power cables have already been laid. These cables, the group claims, will help make Johan Sverdrup one of the most carbon-efficient oil and gas fields in the world. 

By using onshore power, emissions are estimated to be around 0.5kg of CO2 per barrel – around 80% lower than the alternative method of gas turbines. Equinor forecasts it will be able to reduce the field’s emissions by up to 460,000t of CO2 a year – equivalent to removing roughly 230,000 fossil-fuelled cars from the road.

Johan Sverdrup’s 50-year lifespan

As one of the five biggest oil fields on the Norwegian continental shelf, Johan Sverdrup’s production horizon is expected to stretch well into the latter part of this century. This makes it a critical component of Equinor’s goal of slashing its annual carbon emissions by three million tonnes by 2030.

“With low-carbon energy solutions being one of three core areas of Equinor’s corporate strategy, reducing the carbon footprint from our oil and gas activities is a central element of how we work to deliver on the strategy,” explains the project’s head of subsea, power and pipelines Geir Bjaanes.

“With a field like Johan Sverdrup, which has a horizon of more than 50 years, it was key for us to identify relevant technologies and solutions to drive energy efficiency and minimise CO2 emissions from the giant oil field.”

The power cables for first phase of the project have been installed, confirms Bjaanes. This year will see Equinor conduct power tests, with electrification pencilled in for “this autumn – just in time for the tie-back and drilling operations later this year, and well ahead of production start-up towards the end of 2019”.

The Johan Sverdrup project Phase One. Image courtesy of Statoil

Further field electrification

This will be followed by a second phase of Johan Sverdrup’s development. Start-up is planned for 2022, which will see the field’s power capacity extended from 100MW to 300MW. This should see the field’s production capacity increase from 440,000 barrels of oil per day to 660,000.

“This added power capacity from shore will also meet a Norwegian Government requirement that Phase Two also enables the electrification of other fields in the Utsira High area, including Edvard Grieg [operated by Lundin Norway], Gina Krog [Equinor] and Ivar Aasen [Aker BP],” says Bjaanes.

In addition to the Johan Sverdrup project, Equinor is currently exploring the possibility of using power from shore at “other own-operated installations on the Norwegian continental shelf”. This isn’t a matter of course, though. As Bjaanes puts it, “powering major offshore oil and gas installations from shore is no easy task. 

“There are many challenges, both technical and financial, and several of our installations are in areas with no possibility for tying in to shore-based power supply. The current candidates that appear most likely for future electrification include Sleipner and Troll C, with CO2 emissions reduction potential of 250,000t and 365,000t per year, respectively.”

99% of Norway’s power production is derived from hydropower.

Clean energy projects and Norway 

Nonetheless, the latest developments in the North Sea might be seen as further demonstration of Norway's role as a pioneer in its approach to tackling carbon issues, compared with other petroleum-producing nations. 

According to Amy Bowe, director of upstream consulting at Wood Mackenzie, Johan Sverdrup “is not the only field using this approach in the Norwegian North Sea”, but it is Norway’s clean energy mix – 99% of the country’s power production comes from hydropower – that gives it an innate benefit when it comes to reducing field emissions.

“Electrification from shore does help to lower the emissions intensity of an asset – depending, of course, on the fuel mix supplying a country's electricity,” she says. “In the case of Norway, where hydro supplies nearly all the country's electricity, the emissions savings are significant.
“Because not every country has an electricity fuel mix as clean as Norway's, electrification from shore may not provide as substantial a benefit. Moreover, electrification from shore may not be an option for all offshore fields, depending on distance from shore.”

It is Norway’s clean energy mix that gives it an innate benefit when it comes to reducing field emissions.

This is also in no small part due to the Scandinavian country’s strong offshore carbon regulations and carbon tax, which incentivise producers to develop measures such as the Johan Sverdrup project. “Norway is in a unique situation,” says Bowe. “The economics would likely not justify the option in regimes without similarly strong carbon regulations on the upstream sector.”
“Of course, more countries are likely to adopt carbon regulations, including measures that will impact the oil and gas industry, so the cost-benefit analysis may change. However, integrating renewables onto the production platform or near the production platform might be a cheaper, easier alternative to electrification from shore, with greater environmental benefit in countries that don't derive the majority of their electricity from hydro or other clean sources.  

“Some operators, including Equinor, are already experimenting with this and onshore it can make a lot of sense, depending on location.”

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