Statoil is back in talks with Gazprom, Russia’s gas export monopoly, about developing Shtokman, the giant Arctic gas field, Helge Lund, Statoil’s chief executive, told the Financial Times on Monday.

After negotiations about possible collaboration with several foreign companies, Gazprom last year decided to go it alone and develop the field without any foreign equity partners, although it said it would take on international companies as contractors.

Now Gazprom has invited foreign companies – including Statoil – to talk about working on the project: apparently still as contractors. Mr Lund said: “With the offshore expertise that we have, and expertise in harsh offshore environments, we believe Statoil to be a very good partner for Gazprom and other companies in the Barents Sea.”

But he added that the terms of its participation would be a factor in Statoil’s decision about whether to work with Gazprom. “As contractors and available equipment are a scarce resource, we have to put them where we can get the best return. So Russian projects have to compete with what we can get elsewhere,” he said.

However, doing the right deal with Gazprom would be an attractive prospect for Statoil, especially after it reported a fall in production and its booked reserves in 2006. Production fell in part because some projects were delayed, and the company failed to drill as many production wells as it had expected.

“We are working in several huge and complex fields in the North Sea,” Mr Lund said. “It is not that the resources are not there, but there are delays in getting them to market.”

The company predicts that production growth in 2007 will be very strong. Mr Lund re-affirmed Statoil’s target of a 14 per cent rise, although he warned that it now seemed “ambitious”. But in future years, production growth is expected to settle down to a more sedate rate of 2-4 per cent a year.

Statoil’s reserves performance was also disappointing: booked additions to reserves replaced just 73 per cent of production, well below the company’s target of 100 per cent.

However, Mr Lund said he had become “even more confident” about the acquisition of the oil and gas assets of Norsk Hydro, Norway’s other leading energy company, since the deal was announced last December. Mr Lund will be chief executive of the as yet unnamed merged company.

The plan is for the deal to have passed all the necessary hurdles with regulators and investors by the end of September.

Mr Lund said that by 2009-10, cost savings from the merger would be worth about SKr4bn ($640m) a year: about 10 per cent of last year’s net income for Statoil alone.

But the company has put more stress on the potential revenue gains, for example by exploiting what will be a market-leading position in offshore oil and gas.

“It will allow us to develop the business if done in a successful way,” Mr Lund said. “It will be a complete integration of the two companies, and we will work hard to get best practice out of it.”

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