The rig by Tuesday midnight local time moved into the Norwegian part of the Barents Sea and is expected to enter Russian territorial waters in the course of Wednesday. It is accompanied by three support vessels, the tugs Siem Topaz, Siem Amethyst and Loke Viking.
The West Alpha, a Norwegian rig owned and operated by Seadrill, has the last weeks been moored at the Westcon Yards, southwest Norway, to prepare for the mission. According to local newspaper Haugesunds Avis, the security arrangements around the rig has been significant, and both the Norwegian Police and Coast Guard has been well represented on the site.
As the rig moved moved out of the yard on July 20th, it was escorted by a coast guard vessel, the newspaper reportss. The rig has a long way to go before its reaches its destination, the Akademicheskoye structure in the Kara Sea.
Environmental activists have on several recent occasions campaigned against the rigs operating in Arctic waters. As previously reported, Greenpeace in May this year successfully managed to delay Statoil’s operations at the Apollo stucture for several days.
In an open letter to ExxonMobil leader of Greenpeace Norway Truls Gulowsen underlines that the company is taking major risks with the operation. ”They are gambling with the vulnerable Arctic environment, as well as with the Norwegian rig and crew”, Gulowsen says. ”We wonder whether they actually have thought all this well through”, he adds.
According to Greenpeace, the operation is ”the most extreme and remote drilling ever”.
The drilling, part of a comprehensive cooperation agreement between ExxonMobil and Rosneft, is considered highly controversial not only because of the environmental risks included, but also because of the expanded sanctions against Russian individuals and companies. The USA now has both company Rosneft and its president Igor Sechin on its sanctions list.
”The joint activity does not necessarily break the latest sanctions, but the rig’s mission could be seen as a sign that a top U.S. company is backing Moscow”, newspaper Moscow Times reports.