Equinor Energy and its partners have secured approval from the Norwegian government for the NOK13.2bn ($1.29bn) Snøhvit Future project in Norway.

Subject to certain conditions, the approval secures the future operation of Snøhvit natural gas field in the Norwegian Sea and the Hammerfest LNG plant located on the island of Melkøya. Operating since 2007, the Hammerfest LNG plant contributes 5% of Norway’s total gas exports.

According to Equinor, the government’s consent guarantees the ongoing operation at Melkøya where currently 350 permanent employees and 150 contractors and apprentices are engaged at the facility.

The approval enables the company and its partners in implementing onshore compression from 2028 and electrification of the LNG plant beginning in 2030.

Equinor and its Snøhvit licence partners agreed to move ahead with the project in December 2022. On behalf of the Snøhvit partnership, Equinor at that time submitted a plan for development and operation (PDO) of the Snøhvit Future project to the Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy.

The Norwegian oil and gas major has a stake of around 37% in the Snøhvit licence. Its partners include Petoro (30%), TotalEnergies EP Norge (18.4%), Neptune Energy Norge (12%), and Wintershall Dea Norge (2.8%).

Equinor projects, drilling and procurement executive vice president Geir Tungesvik said: “The Snøhvit owners are pleased that the government has now approved Snøhvit Future, a project that will strengthen Norway’s position as a reliable, long-term supplier of gas produced with very low greenhouse gas emissions.

“The project ensures long-term operation and export from Melkøya towards 2050. We fully understand that there have been many factors to consider, and we will recommend the partnership to meet the conditions for the authorities’ approval.”

The Snøhvit partners in their PDO wanted to begin the Snøhvit Future project in 2028 but the authorities deferred the start of electrification by two years. The LNG plant will continue to operate on gas turbines during this period, said Equinor.

Electrification of the Hammerfest LNG plant will replace the existing gas turbines with power drawn from the grid. This cuts CO2 emissions from the LNG facility by nearly 850,000 tonnes annually.

The implementation of onshore gas compression is anticipated to ensure sufficient reservoir flow to enable the extension of plateau production. It will also help in the continued robust export of gas from the Hammerfest LNG facility beyond the year 2030.

Additionally, the Norwegian government has granted its consent for Statnett’s license request for a 420kV power cable connecting Skaidi and Hyggevatn, as well as Equinor’s license application for a 132kV power cable linking Hyggevatn and Melkøya.