Norway plans to nationalize most of its gas pipeline network when many existing concessions expire in 2028, the oil and energy ministry said on Friday, to tighten control over key infrastructure.
Norway has become Europe's largest supplier of gas, following a drop in Russian gas flows, which it supplies via a network of pipelines stretching some 9,000 kms (5,590 miles). The ministry said on Friday it was sending a letter to licensees "signalling the state aims to make use of the right of repatriation at the end of the license period."
"The state wants complete state ownership of the central parts of the Norwegian gas transport system," it said, without giving reasons.
Norway takes an active role in its industry and is the top owner of the country's biggest bank, DNB, telecoms operator Telenor, and oil company Equinor, among others.
The gas pipeline network is owned by Gassled, a partnership set up in 2003 by the oil companies that were producing gas offshore Norway at the time. It cost billions of dollars to build. One of the Gassled co-owners told Reuters it was "surprised" at the move.
"Norwegian petroleum policy has had its foundation on combined ownership from private companies and the state and has worked well," said Kurt Georgsen, CEO of Silex Gas, wholly owned by German insurer Allianz.
"We will work with the government to find a good solution for the transfer of ownership," he added. The Norwegian state already owns 46.7% of Gassled via state-owned company Petoro, while another 5% is owned by Equinor.
In some cases, the government may have to compensate other shareholders, the ministry said, without elaborating. Gassled owns the Kaarstoe and Kollsnes processing plants as well as the majority of the pipelines delivering Norwegian gas to the European Union and Britain.
It was not immediately clear which exact parts of the network would become owned by the state. The energy ministry was not immediately available for additional comment.
Over time, the oil companies have reduced, or sold entirely their stakes, often selling to investment companies. Some of the owners of Gassled include Swiss-based asset manager Partners Group, Allianz, and private equity firm HitecVision.
The technical operator of the infrastructure is Gassco and would remain so under the new regime, the energy ministry said.
(Reuters - Reporting by Gwladys Fouche and Nerijus Adomaitis, editing by Terje Solsvik, Elaine Hardcastle and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)