Norway's Statoil today unveiled plans to develop the giant Johan Sverdrup field in the North Sea, Europe's costliest offshore energy project.

Statoil said it expects to spend up to $29 billion and bring the project into production by 2019.

The biggest North Sea find in decades, Sverdrup is estimated to contain up to 3 billion barrels of recoverable oil equivalents (boe) and the project will break even at an oil price below $40 as the field is located in relatively shallow and accessible waters. 

The shareholders in the project failed, however, to agree on their ownership stakes and asked the Norwegian government to divide the project among them. 

"When it proved impossible to reach an agreement about this with the partnership, we find ourselves in a position where we cannot sign an agreement", said Karl Johnny Hersvik, the chief executive of Det norske, a shareholder in the project. 

The disagreement will not stop the project and Statoil said it expects to bring the first phase of Sverdrup into production by 2019 and once peak production of up to 650,000 boe per day is hit, the project will account for 40% of Norway's output. 

The first phase of the project, which aims to develop up 2.4 billion boe, will cost 117 billion Norwegian crowns ($15.4 billion), at the top end of the companies' previous 100 to 120 billion crown estimate. 

Until the Norwegian government decides on stakes, the firms will use Statoil's division recommendation. 

This would give Statoil 40.0267%, Sweden's Lundin Petroleum 22.12%, state holding firm Petoro 17.84%, Det norske 11.8933% and Denmark's Maersk 8.12%.