OSLO, Nov 7 (Reuters) – Norwegian oil firm Statoil will move further into the Arctic next year, planning to drill its northernmost well near a major nature reserve and closer to the edge of the winter sea ice than before.
Statoil said on Thursday it will test the Hoop geological formation in the Arctic Barents Sea with two wells, hoping to find more oil near a recent discovery by Austrian energy firm OMV, in a move certain to be criticised by environmental groups.
Environmental group Greenpeace has repeatedly called Statoil an "Arctic aggressor" and warned that the Hoop wells are a risk to the nearby Bear Island, a wildlife sanctuary and occasionally home to polar bears.
"We can operate there with today's technology. And we have 40 years of experience of drilling in northern Norway," Daniel Tuppen, Statoil's head of exploration for the Barents Sea said.
OMV found up to 164 million barrels of oil south of the Hoop area in September at its Wisting prospect, increasing exploration appetite in the region as an increase in the recoverable resource would reduce costs.
All in all, Statoil plans to participate in about 20-25 wells off the Norwegian coast next year, down from about 25-30 this year, with much of the decline coming from the end of an aggressive appraisal campaign on the Johan Sverdrup field in the North Sea.
"We have had a lot of appraisal wells drilled in the Johan Sverdrup area this year. There are less appraisal wells to be drilled next year. This is the main reason (for the fall)," said Gro Haatvedt, the head of the firm's Norwegian exploration activities.
Statoil expects to present a new resource estimate for Sverdrup later this year and based on preliminary figures, the North Sea field could hold up to 3.3 billion barrels of oil.
In the Barents Sea, which is slowly becoming Norway's top exploration area, it will participate in 5 to 7 wells and also plans to drill around its shelved $15.5 billion Johan Castberg, project hoping to find more oil and make the project viable.
(Reporting Gwladys Fouche; Writing by Balazs Koranyi, editing by William Hardy)
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