Norway Sees No Respite to High Oil Prices

Oil prices will probably remain high for "a while ahead" due to global uncertainty, especially in the Middle East, Norway's Petroleum and Energy Minister Aaslaug Haga told Reuters on Monday.

Haga said she would not advise OPEC on whether to raise production at its meeting next week but added that high oil prices were hurting the economies of developing countries even though the world economy appeared more resilient.

She said non-OPEC Norway, the world's fifth-largest oil exporter with about 2.4 million barrels per day, had little ability to increase production in the short-term.

"There is uncertainty now, especially in the Middle East, so we have to expect oil prices to be high for at least a while ahead," Haga said in an interview, as oil prices touched new record highs near $100 per barrel.

Oil has risen more than 40 percent since August. U.S. light crude stood 17 cents higher at $98.35, within striking distance of its all-time high of $99.29 on Wednesday.

"Certainly a few years ago we did not think it would be possible to have oil prices this high. We thought the world's economy would collapse," Haga said.

"There are lots of dilemmas involved in an oil price as high as it is now. One of my main worries is for countries and people in the developing world," she said.

She said that Norway's oil output has decreased more than expected over the past years as its North Sea oilfields mature but voiced hope that increased exploration activity could help arrest the trend in the longer-term.

"In a short-term we have very small possibilities for increasing production," she said. "What we can do and are doing is increase activities for searching for oil and gas. Exploration activity has been very low and is now increasing."

Haga said there was no need for any asset swaps on the Norwegian shelf after the creation of state-controlled oil group StatoilHydro, which some state officials have said would impede competition because of its dominant position.

"We will of course keep a close eye on what the merger will imply...but as of now we don't see any need to do any major changes in that sense," Haga said when asked about the need for asset swaps by StatoilHydro on Norway's offshore fields.