OMV is buying stakes in North Sea oilfields from Norway’s Statoil for $2.65bn – the largest deal in the Austrian oil company’s history, and a move that highlights its shift in focus towards more stable western markets.

The deal will increase OMV’s reserve base by nearly a fifth and boost its production about 13 per cent by next year.

“Europe has two growth areas – the northern North Sea and the Black Sea – and we aim to be in both,” said Gehard Roiss, OMV’s chief executive on Monday.

OMV’s assets have, until now, been concentrated in countries with a reputation for instability, such as Yemen, Libya and Pakistan – and the Arab Spring has adversely affected its operations. Its production from Libya, which accounts for about a tenth of its total output, ground to a halt in June because of political unrest and strikes.

In response, the company has been trying to rebalance its portfolio towards western countries with a safer operating environment. Statoil, meanwhile, has been seeking to free-up cash for big investments in new discoveries.

OMV will acquire 19 per cent of Gullfaks and 24 per cent of Gudrun, two oil and gasfields in Norwegian waters. It is also buying 30 per cent of Rosebank and 6 per cent of Schiehallion, two fields west of the Shetland Islands, as well as options for 11 exploration licences in the Faroe Islands.

In total, the acquisitions will boost OMV’s production by about 40,000 barrels a day in 2014 and almost 60,000 b/d in 2016, from the present level of 299,000 b/d.

Expanding in the North Sea also forms part of OMV’s shift towards the upstream industry – the business of exploration and production – away from refining and marketing. It has been divesting downstream assets such as petrol stations in southeast Europe and Cyprus and gas storage facilities in Austria, while investing in oil and gas discoveries in Romania, Australia and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Mr Roiss said returns on investment in the downstream were now less than 5 per cent, while those in the upstream part of the business were more than 10 per cent.

OMV said it would pay for the acquisition with proceeds from disposals and reductions in the working capital needed for its downstream division.

Helge Lund, Statoil chief executive, said the deal allows Statoil to redeploy capital to some of its big recent discoveries, such as the giant Johan Sverdrup field in the North Sea, as well as other finds in Tanzania and Brazil.

He said that even after the transaction, Statoil “still has the capacity” to hit its production target of 2.5m barrels a day by 2020.

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