(Recasts with quotes, further details)
* Norway not ready to book major oil finds until early 2012
* Says discoveries supports view that more finds can be made
* Sees Avaldsnes/Aldous Major producing oil in 2018-2019
* Opening of Barents zone not seen before late 2013-early 2014
By Henrik Stolen
STAVANGER, Norway, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Norwegian oil and gas production will probably remain unchanged over the coming decade, its Oil Directorate (NPD) said on Wednesday, as it waits until 2012 before adding major recent oil find to the country’s overall resource estimates.
“Future oil and gas production is expected to stay at current levels for the next ten years,” Bente Nyland, the head of the agency tasked with managing Norway’s oil and gas resources, told reporters.
“In the longer term, the uncertainty is greater since yet-to-be-discovered resources will make up a larger part of production.”
Statoil , the largest oil producer off Norway, also expects stable production towards 2020, with Norwegian oil and gas output above 1.4 million barrels per day in 2020.
Oil firms Lundin and Statoil recently announced large oil finds at the interconnected Avaldsnes-Aldous North Sea discovery, with Lundin suggesting it could be the third-largest field ever found off Norway.
Statoil and the NPD have said the discoveries are undoubtedly large, but have declined to verify Lundin’s most recent claims, saying they instead prefer to analyse the field further.
The NPD would have its own estimates of the size of the discovery in early 2012, Nyland told Reuters.
Statoil’s Barents Sea Skrugard discovery would also be added to the country’s total resources in 2012, the NPD said.
“These discoveries show that 2011 has so far been one of the most eventful years on the Norwegian shelf in a long time and supports the government’s bullish image of the future,” it said in the report.
“The discoveries also confirm the NPD’s belief that there remains large undiscovered resources on the Norwegian shelf, both in mature and immature areas.”
Nyland repeated that, whatever the exact size of Avaldsnes-Aldous Major, Norwegian production was bound to decline.
Output may, however, flatten out for longer than expected were big oil finds made in the Barents Sea, she said.
Norway is the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter and the second largest for gas. Oil production peaked in 2001 and has fallen since. In 2010 the Nordic country produced 1.8 million barrels per day.
Lundin is the operator of Avaldsnes with a 40 percent interest. Statoil has a 40 percent interest, and Maersk Oil, a unit of Danish shipping giant Maersk (MAERSKb.CO), has a 20 percent interest.
Lundin has said it can start production at Avaldsnes in 2017. Nyland was more cautious suggesting output would more likely begin in 2018 or 2019.
Statoil is the operator of Aldous Major South and has a 40 percent stake. The other partners are Det norske oljeselskap with 20 percent, Lundin with 10 percent and Norwegian state-owned firm Petoro with 30 percent.
Avaldsnes/Aldous Major could make up a fifth of Norway’s oil supply from 2020, rising to over half by 2027, consultancy Wood Mackenzie has said.
Norway will probably wait until late 2013 or early 2014 before any new areas of the Barents Sea are opened up to oil and gas exploration.
“An opening of new Barents acreage must be approved by parliament. We expect that to come at the earliest in late 2013 or early in 2014,” Nyland said.
Norway and Russia signed a deal last year to delineate their Arctic maritime border region, opening a zone in the Barents Sea about half the size of Germany to oil exploration.
The area is believed to hold rich oil and gas resources but it is unclear how much. Over the summer NPD has been conducting seismic surveys in the Norwegian part of the zone and will continue next summer.
Parliamentary approval is not expected to be a problem at this stage as a large majority favours oil exploration in that part of the Barents Sea.
The NPD will also conduct seismic survey off the Lofoten islands, a pristine archipelago north of the Arctic Circle at the centre of a political dispute that threatened to bring down the governing coalition this year.
Under a deal brokered in March, the authorities cannot make an impact study of drilling in the region, the first legal step to open the zone to oil exploration, but instead can gather “information.”
“We have received the green light to do seismic surveys off the Lofoten,” said Nyland. (Editing by James Jukwey)