Skip to main content

Inspiration from a history of explorers

Thanks to a long lasting maritime tradition and experience dealing with harsh environments, Norway has fostered some of the greatest ocean and polar explorers in history. Building on a heritage of adventurers, Equinor has become a world-leading explorer for oil and gas.

0 Top quartile explorer 2011—2015
0 Billion boe discovered 2011—2015
0 High impact discoveries since 2011

A leading global explorer

Despite a more challenging industrial context with fewer and fewer conventional oil and gas discoveries, we have delivered about twice as much value as we have invested in exploration since 2011.

This achievement has placed us among the top exploration companies in the world. In addition to strong exploration results we have delivered incremental improvements in drilling efficiency, without compromising on health, safety and environment. As the exploration industry changes, and as a response to our sharpened strategy we have adjusted our exploration strategy.

Our new ambition is to be “a leading explorer delivering profitable, high-quality resources”. The ambition outlines the direction we need to go to achieve organic growth and stay competitive in a lower carbon future.

We have already built a strong position in some of the world’s most prolific oil and gas basins, including the Norwegian continental shelf, Gulf of Mexico, East Coast of Canada and Brazil, which we regard as the core areas for our exploration activities. Prolific basins are proven basins which have already delivered significant oil and gas volumes.?

As explorers, we know that where hydrocarbons have been found before, there are more to find.

The new exploration strategy will affect the way we work, the decisions we make and what we deliver. There is an increased focus on high quality resources; this includes resources with good reservoirs quality, high density of resources and light hydrocarbons, as well as access to infrastructure, competitive fiscal requirements and good possibilities for development.

In addition to deepening in our core exploration areas, we are actively seeking and accessing new play-opening opportunities. Our success formula is the same as that of the early 20th century explorers; we think globally when analysing the subsurface, we apply the latest technology, we accept uncertainty and we nurture learning and a creative exploration culture

Why do we need to find more oil and gas?

Photo of Torshavn, Faroe Islands by night

Global population growth and improved living standards fuel increasing global energy demand. By 2050, the world will need to provide energy for 3.7 billion more people than it does today. Energy access is fundamental to social development: it provides clean water, sanitation, lighting, heating, cooking, mechanical power, and transport, health care, education, and communication services. At the same time, the world is facing an increasing risk of irreversible climate changes because of human energy consumption. Developing a sustainable energy system is therefore one of the greatest challenges of our time.

Find out more about how the world can strike a balance between the climate effects of energy consumption and the need to secure a sufficient supply of energy.

Our exploration heritage

Two woman working at the Sandsli research center

In close collaboration with industry partners, authorities and local communities, we have raised the bar of safety standards and drilling efficiency and minimised environmental impact and exploration risk. We have been?at the forefront of exploration and production activities in difficult and harsh offshore environments for decades.?

We have utilised our knowledge and experience from working on the Norwegian Continental shelf in inhospitable waters such as those off Newfoundland and the Faroes, and drilled exploration wells in more than 1,000 metres of water off the coasts of Brazil, Angola, and Tanzania. ?

Becoming a preferred operator?in the field of exploration is the result of long-lasting efforts and commitment to constant improvement guided by some key principles:

  • Safety is our first priority?
  • Power of collaboration?
  • Positive ripple effects
  • Mutual benefits?
  • Successful coexistence

Bright heads, right tools, great opportunities

Most of the easy-to-find oil and gas in the world has already been discovered, forcing our explorationists to continuously come up with innovative ideas and utilising the latest technologies. This endeavour strongly relies on collaborative efforts, global perspectives, a culture of inquisitiveness and minds asking ‘what if’ and ‘why not’ in order to develop news exploration ideas and concepts.

Explorers in the early days of polar exploration were admired for their aspirations, persistence, boldness, creativity and knowledge. Today's search for high impact discoveries calls for people with the same personal qualities and level of passion for what they do. In the exploration process, we draw upon resources from all over the world. Well-orchestrated teams of professionals with cross-disciplinary skills and perspectives unlock the full potential that lies in the organisation.

Once the team of geoscientists has been assembled, it's time to start asking the right questions. How have the tectonic plates moved? Is there a source rock, a reservoir and a seal, and do we understand the migration of hydrocarbons?

We believe that our culture of inquisitiveness is unique and drives the idea generation and technology that ultimately leads to new discoveries. Having the best people, data and tools available have allowed us to become one of the leading exploration companies in recent years.

In order to secure continued success in the future, we enable talents and senior- level experts to develop professionally. In Equinor, you can deepen or broaden your set of skills, work with different parts of the world and challenge yourself to deliver and grow.

Meet our geologists

Geologists are an inquisitive lot. Our geologists Allie Thurmond and?Brita Graham Wall?are good examples. They are passionate about geology and love explaining its connection to our future energy supply.

From idea to oil

Exploring for hydrocarbons is a complex process characterised by great subsurface risk and uncertainty. It also requires long-term thinking; these projects will typically take a decade or more from discovery to first oil.


Our skilled and creative geoscientists screen the entire world for attractive opportunities based on their regional knowledge and subsurface competence. Projects are ranked and prioritised globally to ensure we pursue the most attractive opportunities.

In order to explore for and produce oil and gas within a specified geographical area, Equinor must be granted an exploration or production licence. New licences can be acquired through government licensing or bid rounds, through direct negotiations or through business deals with other companies holding licences.

When venturing into a new area, a first important step in the exploration process is understanding the sub-surface rock structures, in order to determine where there can be potential for hydrocarbons. Well information (if available) and area knowledge is important. Seismic data acquired is processed into images of the sub-surface structures. These images are finally interpreted by geoscientists.

Based on what we have learned from the maturation phase, we assess the probability of finding oil and gas. Prospects that are considered the most geologically interesting are then explored through one or more wells. Before actually drilling the wells, we do not know which prospect will be successful. This emphasises the importance of having a broad portfolio with many options.

The development phase takes place after a significant oil or gas discovery has been found commercially viable. A final investment decision is based on a development concept, which fully addresses the complexities of the field, in particular related to reservoir management, recovery rates and project execution. Some projects will require tailored solutions and pioneering technology in order to be developed. Our experience with advanced technology is key to developing new oil and gas resources cost-efficiently while protecting the environment.

Production starts when development has completed, This marks the end of one chapter—which might have lasted for more than ten years—and the start of a new one: the production phase. This can go on for several decades, and throughout this time, new wells might be drilled to increase production.

Exploration is a portfolio game

We consider exploration to be a long-term portfolio game. An opportunity-rich and balanced portfolio is the key to successful exploration.?

Picture of big clouds and Maersk Developer platform in the Gulf of Mexico

The typical chance of finding oil or gas in a frontier unexplored area can be as low as 10 to 15 percent, which translates into one discovery for every seventh exploration well. This is why it is essential to have an attractive opportunity set to ensure that we do not fully depend on the exploration results in any single area. As we test the prospects in our exploration portfolio, we need to replenish them with new opportunities to make sure we always maintain optionality.

Another basic principle of a strong exploration portfolio is to maintain an appropriate overall risk-volume-value balance. The geological chance of success varies significantly for different types of opportunities.

While quite low for frontier basins, it increases significantly for exploration near existing infrastructure in mature basins, which enjoy probabilities of 50 percent or above. These prospects also rate high on value, as they can be quickly and efficiently tied into existing infrastructure. On the other hand, these prospects usually deliver lower volumes than frontier prospects.

Equinor has a well-balanced global exploration portfolio, so the risk we are taking in our frontier high-potential wells is balanced by exploration in the mature areas with high discovery rates though modest volumes.

Photo of a man working at Maersk Developer platform in Gulf in Mexico
Drill string
Photo of core samples from the Johan Sverdrup field
Core sample from the Johan Sverdrup field.

Huge potential upside
A functioning geological play can at times deliver significant discoveries with standalone development potential. We call them growth discoveries. A good example is the giant Johan Sverdrup discovery made in the North Sea as recently as 2010, which turned out to be one of the five biggest oil fields on the Norwegian continental shelf with expected resources of between 1.7 and 3.0 billion barrels of oil equivalent.

During the recent years we have focused on identifying and testing impact opportunities, i.e. prospects with substantial volumes and upside potential This strategy has been highly successful and resulted in 13 high impact discoveries since 2011 in Norway, East Coast Canada, Tanzania and Brazil.

Persistance pays off
During the ranking process, we not only assess our prospects on a one-off basis, but look for follow-up potential. We prioritise opportunities that could open a new geological play, i.e. bring forth a group of prospects in the same area that are controlled by the same set of geological circumstances. Such opportunities are very attractive as they can provide the basis for further organic growth.

The Skrugard discovery in 2011 opened a new oil play in the Barents Sea with follow- up discoveries in Havis and Drivis, which together provided the resource base for the Johan Castberg development. Similarly, the Zafarani discovery in Tanzania opened a new play leading to a series of impact discoveries.

Seismic data—the sound of oil

Seismic vessel

Seismic data from acoustic waves is one of our most important tools for discovering new oil and gas-bearing reservoirs hidden beneath the surface. Collecting geophysical information is based on the same principles as medical ultrasound, but on a hugely different scale.

High quality data from seismic analysis enhance the probability of exploration success and have been collected onshore and offshore worldwide for almost a century. Seismic vessels bounce sound waves off sub-surface rock structures, and pick up the “echo” using sophisticated microphones.

The data can then be used to identify geological structures and layers, locate potential traps, and sometimes directly predict the presence of hydrocarbons.

Seismic surveying is not only used to search for hydrocarbons, but is also an important tool to monitor the drainage of reservoirs in order to increase recovery.

There are different types of technologies used for acquisition, processing, imaging and interpretation. However, seismic data can’t eliminate sub-surface risk—the data only show the potential for the rock holding oil and gas. To actually find out if it actually holds oil and gas, an exploration well has to be drilled.

Photo of a team working with seismic data

Equinor aims to be recognised as a responsible partner for our host communities and partners, and the protection of the marine environment has high priority when Equinor conducts its seismic acquisitions.

Picture of fishing boat in the North of Norway

A responsible approach
We aim to be recognised as a responsible partner for our host communities and partners, and the protection of the marine environment has high priority when we conduct our seismic acquisitions. To achieve these ambitions we enter into close collaboration and dialogue with relevant stakeholders at an early stage in the exploration process and seek to gain as much knowledge and understanding of possible environmental affects as possible. Equinor always has company representatives on board the seismic vessels, and we also operate under the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) guidelines for minimising the risk of injury and disturbance to marine mammals from seismic surveys.

We focus strongly on successful coexistence with other industries when collecting seismic data. In the planning phase, we have close dialogue with fisheries and other stakeholders to minimize the disturbance caused by the seismic acquisition and prevent conflicts. Ever since the first oil was produced in the late 1960s, Norwegian authorities have contributed to improved coexistence between the fisheries and petroleum industry and provided guidance when companies like ours explore new areas for oil and gas. Based on this Norwegian experience, we believe we are well prepared for taking on new exploration projects, working closely with local interests.

We participate in the E&P Sound & Marine Life Programme. This Joint Industry Programme (JIP) supports research to help increase understanding of the effect of sound on marine life generated by oil and gas exploration and production activity. This research helps governments make regulatory decisions based on the best science and the industry develop effective mitigation strategies.

Meet our people

Emilio Garcia-Caro uses sound waves to find oil and marine biologist Jürgen Weissenberger discusses marine mammals and sound in the ocean.

Our activities in the North

Melk?ya plant

Oil and gas production in the northern areas will be an important contributor to securing supply for the growing global energy demand. With an estimated 25 per cent of the remaining yet to find oil and gas resources in the world located north of the Arctic Circle, energy companies are now exploring the region.