Less Russian oil around the coast of Norway

Both the number of tankers and the total amount of oil products from harbours in Northwest Russia to the European market have decreased in 2011. More of the oil is heading to the Asian markets via the Northern Sea Route.


Over the first 11 months of this year, 255 tankers with a total 11,2 million tons of petroleum have sailed in transit around the coast of Norway. With only one month to go this year, the amount will not reach last year’s 14,8 million tons.

It is the Norwegian Coastal Administration that publishes the statistics of oil transport from Russia passing outside Norway’s Arctic coast. From their Vessel Traffic Service in Vardø all tankers are monitored as they enter Norwegian sector of the Barents Sea and all along the coast towards the south. Between 15 and 30 tankers are sailing the route every month. Except August, the number of tankers has been fewer in all months this year compared with 2010. In November, 18 tankers come from Murmansk and six tankers come from Arkhangelsk.

Russian oil companies uses both Murmansk and Arkhangelsk for reloading of oil-products, either coming by rail from Siberia or with smaller tankers from the terminals in Varandey and Vitino. In Murmansk, it is normal to see hundreds of rail-wagons waiting reloading to tankers along the Kola bay.

An expert that has made comprehensive reports about Russian oil shipment in the north is Alexei Bambulyak, General Manager of Akvaplan-Niva’s Russian desk. He says to BarentsObserver that the decrease of oil shipped from Russia through the Barents Sea in 2011 was predictable.

- The reason for slight decrease in oil transportation was Varandey and, actually, not the terminal itself neither infrastructure, but overestimation of Yuzhno-Khylchuyu oil field reserves, says Alexei Bambulyak. The production at the oil field decreased much earlier than expected and since that field is the main supplier of oil to Varandey, the export decreases correspondingly. Varandey is located in Nenets Autonomous Okrug on the coast to the Pechora Sea.

- As for other terminals, they work rather stable. Moreover, we see increase of activities in Arkhangelsk comparing to 2010. The terminals in Murmansk are working on the same scale as before and the Vitino terminal is working with gas condensate on the same level as before, says Bambulyak.

Aleksey Bambulyak
Alexei Bambulyak has for years been monitoring oil transport from terminals in Nordwest-Russia. Photo: Jonas Karlsbakk

While oil transport is decreasing around the coast of Norway, this summer has shown a multiply increase in transport along the Northern Sea Route towards the markets in Asia. During the five months sailing season this year, nine large tankers with a total of 600.000 tons of gas condensate from NOVATEK have sailed the Northern Sea Route. That is more than eight times more oil than during the 2010 season. Other companies have also shipped oil from Murmansk to Asia via the Arctic route.

It remains to see if this shift in markets will grow more in the years to come. Russia is currently expanding the capacity to ship out more oil from its harbours in northwest.

- Lukoil is building a pipeline with an annual capacity of 3 million tons from the Kharyaga oil field to Varandey; and further on, Trebs and Titov large oil fields in Nenets AO will be put on stream, says Alexei Bambulyak.

In his 2011 status report on oil transport from the Russian part of the Barents Region, Bambulyak has together with Bjørn Frantzen demonstrated that the overall capacity of the terminals shipping oil and gas for export along the northern coast of Russia and Norway can reach 100 million tons in a five year perspective. If so, that is nearly ten times as much oil as in 2011.

About 50 million tons of crude oil and petroleum products can be delivered by railway to Murmansk port terminals and from Vitino and Arkhangelsk in the White Sea. Up to 20 million tons of oil will come from the northern Timano-Pechora oil fields. Then, LNG will come Yamal and some oil will come from Norway’s first operating oil-field in the Barents Sea; Goliat.

The tankers in use for transport out of northwest Russia are modern vessels.

- In general, the tankers are relatively new, says Paul Kolseth, vessel traffic controller at Vardø VTS to BarentsOberver. The November statics shows that 18 of the vessels were less than four years old, while only one tanker was more than 20 years old.

Worst-case scenario for Norway and Russia is a huge tanker accident, followed by massive oil spill and ecological damages along the Arctic coast. The two countries are now cooperating closely to build up joint sea traffic monitoring and emergency response capacities in case of marine casualty in the north.