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New Arctic fields on disputed shelf

The West Hercules rig on mission for Statoil in the Barents Sea.

The development of oil fields in the Hoop High could stir international controversy because of the vicinity to the touchy Svalbard Archipelago.

The new oil field discovered in September this year by OMV and it license partners could have the potential to trigger serious international disagreement. The Wisting Central field is located in the perspective Hoop structure, an area which is expected to stretch into the waters surrounding the Svalbard Archipelago.

As previously reported, the Wisting field is the northernmost ever oil discovery made on the Norwegian shelf.

Norwegian state-controlled Statoil has a 15 percent in the license and is soon to drill at the nearby Apollo field, a structure which is located even closer to Svalbard. If Statoil makes a major discovery at Apollo, the resources could stretch in the Svalbard waters, Teknish Ukeblad reports.

The management of the Svalbard archipelago is based on an international treaty of 1920, according to which Norway gets sovereignty over the islands, but with all signatory states entitled to engage in local commercial activities. Norway argues that the treaty’s provisions of equal economic access only apply to the islands and their territorial waters, but not to the far bigger exclusive economic zone. In addition, the country argues that the islands’ continental shelf is a part of mainland Norway’s continental shelf.

This position, however, is disputed by several signatory countries, among them Russia and the United Kingdom.

By drilling at the Hoop High, Norway could challenge the skeptical signatory states. The Apollo field is located close to the 74th latitude, the outer border of what many considers to be the Svalbard waters. In addition to the Apollo field, Norway in the 22nd License Round in June this year issued licenses to another two structures located even further north, at about 74,5 degrees north.

According to Johan Petter Barlindhaug, board chairman of the North Energy company, the UK might ultimately take action against the Norway in the area.

“In this issue, there are no friends, only national interests. The Svalbard zone remains an unsettled issue”, Barlindhaug says to TU.no.