‘Complete greenwash’: Western Europe’s largest oilfield ramps up production — defying calls to stop altogether

HANDOUT: Johan Sverdrup oil field 191219 EU
Equinor’s Johan Sverdrup oil field depicted in August 2019.
Ole Jørgen Bratland | Equinor Press Images

A newly-discovered oilfield in the Norwegian part of the North Sea is on track to produce almost 0.5% of global oil supplies next year, despite calls for it to immediately stop producing crude altogether.

Based approximately 87 miles off the West coast of Norway, the Johan Sverdrup oilfield represents the largest North Sea discovery in more than three decades.

It only came on stream in early October, but it is already considered Western Europe’s biggest oil producer, supplying more than 300,000 barrels per day (b/d).

Equinor, Norway’s state-controlled oil company and Sverdrup’s operator, has said it expects crude production from this field to increase to 440,000 b/d in the summer of next year — before eventually climbing up to 660,000 b/d after 2022.

To put those figures into context, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reported earlier this month that global oil supplies stood at 101 million b/d in November. So, assuming total oil output worldwide is little changed over the coming months, the Sverdrup oilfield will soon account for 0.4% of global production.

“It is quite significant,” Tamas Varga, senior analyst at PVM Oil Associates, told CNBC via telephone.

The speed of its development has been “absolutely amazing,” he added, especially when you consider “the general perception was that the North Sea was declining as far as output is concerned.”

Climate crisis

The discovery of the Sverdrup field, and its rapidly rising oil output, comes as global leaders debate the best approach to combat an intensifying climate crisis.

The United Nations (UN) has recognized the phenomenon as the “defining issue of our time,” with a recent report calling it “the greatest challenge to sustainable development.”

Some environmental groups have called on major energy firms to immediately stop producing oil altogether, with Greenpeace arguing such action is necessary given that crude is one of the biggest contributors to climate change.

However, Equinor has said it believes “Johan Sverdrup is a prime example of exactly why we shouldn’t do that.”

The Stavanger-based energy firm has described its record-breaking oilfield as a “technological triumph” and “a milestone for the Norwegian oil industry, supplying the world with energy and creating value for society.”

It argues “world energy demand continues to rise and we will still have a significant need for oil and gas in the foreseeable future. But not all barrels are created equal.”

‘We need to stop looking for new oil and gas’

Equinor says this is because it extracts oil more cleanly when compared to other energy firms, thanks largely to hydroelectric power from the shore.

“This is a complete greenwash — both of Equinor and the Norwegian government,” Frode Pleym, the head of Greenpeace Norway, told CNBC via telephone.

“It is typical” of Norwegian oil and gas companies to claim it uses cleaner energy than other countries, he added.

GP: Global Climate Strike, England 190920
School students protest outside of Parliament on September 20, 2019 in London, England. Millions of people are taking to the streets around the world to take part in protests inspired by the teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.
Guy Smallman |  Getty Images

Pleym said that, while the process of Equinor’s oil extraction may be slightly cleaner than rival energy firms, when crude is burned, “it doesn’t matter to the climate crisis whether the oil came from Saudi Arabia, the U.S., or Norway.”

“We need to stop looking for new oil and gas. We have already found more oil and gas than the world can afford to use.”

Equinor and Norway’s ministry of petroleum and energy did not respond to a request for comment when contacted by CNBC.

This entry was posted in Energy, Europe, Europe: Economy, Oil. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply