Norway isn’t happy with Gazprom-OMV asset swap deal, says energy minister

"We are not happy for this deal because we want to have diversified supplies for gas to Europe," said Terje Soeviknes.

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The logo of Russian gas giant Gazprom is seen on a board at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum 2017 (SPIEF 2017) in St. Petersburg, Russia, June 1, 2017. (Sergei Karpukhin / Reuters file photo)

OSLO — Norway is not happy with an asset swap deal between Austria’s OMV and Gazprom that would give the Russian gas giant access to the Norwegian continental shelf, the minister in charge of approving the deal has told Reuters in Norway’s first comments on the matter.

“We have said we are not happy for this deal because we want to have diversified supplies for gas to Europe,” Energy Minister Terje Soeviknes said in an interview.

“That is important for the Europeans, to know that they have Norway as a stable producer. With Gazprom at the shelf, some people might question that.”

Non-EU Norway is Europe’s second-largest gas supplier after Russia.

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Under a deal agreed in late 2016, OMV offered to swap a 38.5-percent stake in its Norwegian unit for a 25-percent stake in a section of Gazprom’s Urengoy gas field.

OMV Chief Executive Rainer Seele said in March he expected to close the deal by the end of 2018 as the company looks to cut costs and secure gas reserves.

“We have told OMV that we are not happy for it. But we have said that, if there is an application, we will of course handle it,” Soeviknes said, adding that an application had not yet been submitted.

A spokesman for OMV said talks with Gazprom were still under way and that the company remained confident that it could close the deal by the end of the year.

Gazprom was not available for immediate comment.

When OMV failed to file documents to the Norwegian oil and energy ministry regarding the Gazprom deal in the summer of 2017, the company cited Norwegian parliamentary elections in September as the reason for the delay.

Prime Minister Erna Solberg and her government won re-election and Soeviknes continued as oil minister.

Austria’s OMV has stakes in more than 30 licences on the Norwegian continental shelf, including in the producing fields Gullfaks, Gudrun and Edvard Grieg, as well as the Arctic Aaasta Hansteen gas field which is expected to start production at the end of 2018.

Its Wisting oil discovery in the Barents Sea could start production in 2024-2025.

Norway’s majority state-owned Equinor, formerly known as Statoil, is Gazprom’s main competitor in Western Europe.

Additional reporting by Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich in Vienna and Oksana Kobzeva in Moscow.