April 25 (UPI) -- The estimated amount of undiscovered oil and gas in the Norwegian waters of the Barents Sea is likely twice what was previously assumed, the government said.
Apart from Russia, Norway is the lead oil and natural gas exporter to the European market, designating nearly all of its offshore production for European Union demand. The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate said new data from eastern and northern parts of the Barents Sea, areas previously a source of dispute with Russia, led to upward revisions of the reserve estimate by up to 65 percent.
NPD Director General Bente Nyland said figures still carry a degree of uncertainty, but added the Barents Sea in general is already expecting a record this year in terms of the number of exploration wells at 15, up two wells from the previous record in 2014.
"This is a significant increase, and shows a very positive development in the Barents Sea," Nyland told delegates gathered Tuesday for a Barents Sea conference in Hammerfest.
At least three new developments are planned for the Barents Sea, with the Johan Castberg highlighted as one of the more significant. The NPD in February confirmed a discovery at a wildcat well, one drilling in an area not previously known to carry hydrocarbons, about 20 miles away from Johan Castberg. The field has estimated proven reserves of between 400 million and 600 million barrels of oil and the NPD said the upward revision for the Barents Sea is roughly equivalent to 14 Johan Castberg fields.
Norway's economy is recovering from last year's decline in crude oil prices. Industrial confidence is in positive territory for the first time since the third quarter of 2014, but remains below a historical average.
Norges Bank, the country's central bank, found lingering economic strains from energy market factors, though bank Gov. Øystein Olsen said a worst-case scenario never materialized for Norway.
Separately, the government reported preliminary production of 1.73 million barrels of oil, 380,000 barrels of natural gas liquids and 31,000 barrels of condensate, an ultra-light form of oil, per day in March. Oil production in particular was 8 percent higher than last year and about 4 percent higher than the government expected.