Norwegian oil giant Statoil and its partners plan to invest 49 billion kroner (nearly 5 billion euros, $5,9 billion) to develop the Arctic Johan Castberg oil field, a cost cut in half compared to initial forecasts

Oslo (AFP) - Norwegian oil giant Statoil and its partners on Tuesday presented a development plan of the 49 billion kroner (nearly 5 billion euros, $5,9 billion) Arctic Johan Castberg oil field, a cost cut in half compared to initial forecasts.

The offshore project is scheduled to launch production in 2022 and located about 240 kilometres (149 miles) from the Norwegian city of Hammerfest, making it the northernmost project in the Nordic nation.

With recoverable reserves estimated at between 450 and 650 million barrels of oil equivalent, Johan Castberg is the world’s “biggest offshore oil and gas development to be given the go-ahead in 2017,” Statoil said in a statement.

The project’s fate has long been uncertain as the necessary investment was initially estimated at more than 100 billion kroner, requiring a barrel at 80 dollars in order to be profitable.

Thanks to a redesign of the concept and the general drop in costs in the oil services sector, the bill was reduced to 49 billion kroner with a break-even point at less than 35 dollars per barrel.

The price of Brent oil is currently above 62 dollars per barrel.

The investment is good news for the oil sector in Norway, where black gold production has halved since its peak in 2000-2001.

The Barents Sea holds 65 percent of the undiscovered reserves on the Norwegian continental shelf, according to the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.

The directorate on Tuesday hailed the announcement as “a milestone”.

The development concept chosen for Johan Castberg “facilitates further development of this petroleum province,” the directorate said in a statement.

But exploration campaigns in the Norwegian waters of the Barents Sea yielded disappointing results in 2014 and last summer.

The only oil field already exploited in the region, Goliat, which is operated by Italy’s Eni, has meanwhile faced several setbacks, including extra costs, delays and technical problems.

Far from land-based infrastructure, Arctic oil activities are facing rising hostility, not only due to environmental issues but also because of their future economic viability.

Greenpeace and two other NGOs recently took the Norwegian state to court, demanding some exploration licenses in the Barents Sea to be cancelled.

The verdict, which does not concern Johan Castberg, is expected in January.

The operation of Johan Castberg is expected to represent about 1,700 jobs, including 500 in northern Norway, Statoil said.

Statoil owns 50 percent of the project, which also includes Italy’s Eni (30 percent) and the Norwegian public company Petoro (20 percent).