A yellow giant rises above a Norwegian fjord

A huge and growing structure on the Norwegian shoreline is one of many parts that will make up the Johan Sverdrup project. It is the biggest planned investment in the North Sea basin in the coming decade, showing that it still holds significant potential.

A yellow giant
The yellow tubes towering over Verdal are the first thing to strike the eye, even before the first houses of the small Norwegian town come into view.

The Johan Sverdrup development

  • Situated 140 km offshore Norway in 120 metres of water, four jacket-based fixed platforms will house risers – pipes that connect the offshore structure to the sub-sea system – processing, wellhead and drilling facilities and living quarters, connected by bridge links.
  • The recoverable resource range of 1.7 to 3.0 billion barrels of oil equivalent makes Johan Sverdrup one of the five largest fields ever discovered in Norway. For the full field, peak production will be up to 650,000 bpd.
  • Maersk Oil holds 8.44% in the development. Statoil (operator) 40.0267%; Lundin Norway 22.6%; Petoro 17.36%; Det Norske Olieselskap 11.5733%.
    108.3 billion NOK is being invested in the phase 1 development, with an expected capacity of 315,000-380,000 boepd.
  • The plan envisages additional phases of development to recover the vast quantities of oil in Johan Sverdrup will occur over a period of 50 years.

The yellow tubes towering over Verdal are the first thing to strike the eye, even before the first houses of the small Norwegian town come into view.

This giant structure, which reaches 70 metres into the air even when just lying on its side, will be the jacket – i.e. the legs that form the base of one of the four platforms in the first phase of the Johan Sverdrup development. On completion, it will be even bigger, with two further sections due to be attached on each side.

Maersk Oil is investing heavily in oil and gas projects in the North Sea region that will bring future production. Both Johan Sverdrup and Culzean in the UK sector were sanctioned in 2015 and together they are making Maersk Oil’s portfolio more robust and will help it become one of the top five producers in the North Sea by the middle of the next decade. The lower oil price has also given companies with large projects an opportunity to renegotiate contracts and potentially lower costs and break-even prices.

“The project is huge,” says Mark Seger, Maersk Oil’s Project Manager for Johan Sverdrup, as he surveys the struts that are still waiting to be fitted to the jacket, and work continues behind him. “It’s going to produce a lot every day and it’s going to do so for decades. The person who is going to shut this down may not even have been born yet. This is really looking far into the future.”

Smiles for the subsurface
Development is coming on apace, with first production expected in 2019. The drilling of the first production well has started as has construction of the jackets – including the one being built by Kværner, a Norwegian company, in Verdal – and the topsides which will sit on top to make up the four platforms.

A yellow giant

Johan Sverdrup is an important building block in Maersk Oil’s future.

Jakob Thomasen


The story of the field is an instructive one. Johan Sverdrup is located in the area in which the very first licence on the Norwegian Continental Shelf was awarded in 1965. After several dry wells were drilled in the 1960s and 70s, the area was considered to have no hydrocarbon potential. But another look in 2010 found a reservoir that is very large in size and of high quality.

“When the subsurface people in Statoil start to describe the reservoir, they start to smile,” says Kjetil Digre, Johan Sverdrup Project Director for Statoil, the operator.

“Because of the size and ambitions involved, we are spreading what would normally be done on one platform across four.”

Understanding the geology

Characterised by good flow, those reservoir rock properties, characterised by good flow, mean it is estimated that about 70% of the oil in Johan Sverdrup could be economically recovered and that is pressure and temperature are normal. By comparison most Danish fields yield about 26-28%.

”Projects like Johan Sverdrup and Culzean can help Maersk Oil in a lower price environment. Along with effective cost optimisation, operational excellence, and a focus on technology, project delivery and long-term growth, we make ourselves a more robust company,” says CEO Jakob Thomasen.

With more than 50 years experience in the North Sea, Maersk Oil has a strong pedigree of participating in phased developments similar to Johan Sverdrup.
The top of the jacket commands distant views across the town, surrounding hills and the fjord that leads to the waters where the platforms will eventually be established. Thomasen, reflects on the characteristics of the discovery.

“The quality of the reservoir is excellent so the oil flows much more easily here,” he says. “So it’s not just the size, but it’s the very good quality. It’s an important building block in Maersk Oil’s North Sea ambition.”