Norway ready to drill along Russian border

Drilling rigs will soon operate along Norway's border to Russia. Illustration:

The Norwegian government’s readiness to drill in the formerly disputed waters in the Barents Sea opens not only a new petroleum province, but possibly also a new phase in relations with Russia.


“This is a historical moment”, Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy Ola Borten Moe said this week about his government’s decision to open the southeastern part of the Norwegian Barents Sea. “For the first time since 1994 we can open a new region for exploration and look for oil and gas in new, promising waters”, he added, a government press release reads.

The new waters are opened to exploration less than two years after the Norwegian-Russian delimitation agreement on the Barents Sea came into effect, which is an unprecedented short time. As previously reported, Norway sent seismic vessels to the 175,000 square km big area on 7 July 2011, the same day as the treaty came into effect.

A consequence study of the area was subsequently presented in October 2012.

The Norwegian government has over the last months extensively discussed drilling in Arctic waters. While the three coalition parties have decided to spare the areas around Jan Mayen and Lofoten, at least for now, they all agree on drilling in the formerly disputed areas along the border to Russia.

Political motivations are in the background. As noted by Minister of Environment Bård Vegard Solhjell in a newspaper interview: “The southeastern Barents Sea borders on Russia, while Jan Mayen borders on Iceland, and there is a major difference between Russia and Iceland”. 

The area, which now is being opened is about 44,000 square kilometers big and holds an estimated 1,9 billion barrels of oil equivalents.

The Norwegian government decision comes at the same time as Italian ENI, as part of its cooperation with Rosneft, is getting ready for seismic mapping on the other side of the border, at the Fedynsky prospect. Resources on the Russian side of the border are believed to significantly exceed the potential on the Norwegian side. According to preliminary data from Rosneft, the Fedynsky area has a total of nine promising structures and a resource potential of as much as 18,7 billion barrels of oil equivalents. A total of 6500 km of 2D mapping is to be conducted by 2017 and another 1000 square km of 3D mapping by 2018. The first well is to be drilled before 2020.

With its expansionist policy in Arctic waters, Russian state-owned oil major Rosneft is gradually becoming a key player also in the Norwegian-Russia border areas. Sooner or later, fields with resources stretching across the borderline will be discovered and the two countries forced to compromise on the sharing of responsibilities and revenues. In that game, Rosneft and its powerful leader Igor Sechin will play one of the main roles. 

Furthermore, Rosneft is also getting well represented on the Norwegian side of the border. The agreement between Statoil and Rosneft gives the Russian company the right to take 33 percent shares in joint ventures. And it is the Norwegian Barents Sea which is the area of main interest, Rosneft representatives confirm.