Drilling of the first well in the Barents Sea started in June 1980, with the Storting (Norwegian Parliament) having opened for drilling activities north of the 62nd parallel the previous year.
Since then a total of 63 exploration wells have been drilled in the Norwegian part of the Barents Sea.
The first discoveries in the Barents Sea were made in 1981. Exploration wells 7120/8-1 Askeladd and 7120/12-2 both proved gas in the Hammerfest basin, an area that has a number of geological similarities with the North Sea and the Norwegian Sea. 7120/8-1 Askeladd is now a part of Snohvit, which was approved for development in 2002.
So far in 2005, two wells have been drilled: 7220/6-1 and 7121/4-1. Neither well has proved hydrocarbons worth producing, although they have provided useful information on the local geology. In spite of this result, there are still high expectations of the Barents Sea. The area is the least explored on the Norwegian continental shelf, and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate's (NPD) estimates indicate large undiscovered resources in the area.
More wells are waiting. The operating company ENI is planning three wells in connection with the Goliat discovery, and the NPD is now waiting for a drilling program in order to grant the final drilling permits for these.
Statoil is also to drill well 7227/11-1 S in production license 202 in the North Cape basin, where a minor gas discovery has been made previously, in well 7228/7-1.
There are several reasons for the growing interest in Barents Sea exploration. The Barents Sea has a great resource potential, the area has not generally been explored much, and it is assumed that the Arctic contains a significant part of the world's undiscovered petroleum resourcdes. The Sn°hvit development has directed more attention towards the region. Developing infrastructure for gas export has also turned the attention a little away from oil, which used to be the most sought after, towards gas, which one assumes there will be more of in the Barents Sea.
The Norwegian Sn°hvit and Goliat, together with several major gas discoveries in the Russian part of the Barents Sea, indicate that there might be a vast potential in these enormous seas. Shtokmanovskoye is the best known of the Russian discoveries, but Kildinskoye, Murmanskoye, Ledovoye and Ludlovskoye may also contain considerable amounts of gas. All of these were proven in the 1980s and await clarification with regard to ownership and production and transport solutions. Russian authorities have also said that they will be announcing large exploration areas in the Barents Sea.
The Norwegian authorities are giving the industry access to many new exploration areas in the Barents Sea. In the 19th licensing round, which was announced in the middle of June this year, the government is offering 30 blocks. The announcement provides a basis for a gradual exploration of the Barents Sea, where the announced areas consist of several blocks suitable for testing out the petroleum potential in new areas. There was great interest shown in nominating blocks for the 19th licensing round. The deadline for applications is 15 November 2005, with awards planned for the first quarter of 2006.
The NPD believes it is important for Norway's future as an oil and gas producer to gain a better knowledge of the resource basis in the Barents Sea, and we have been gathering seismic data and conducted shallow drilling activities in the Barents Sea since the 1970s in order to learn as much as possible about the petroleum resources in the entire area.
Never have the authorities stipulated stricter environmental requirements for exploration drilling on the Norwegian continental shelf than in the Barents Sea.
In 2001 the Cabinet decided that the environmental effects of year-round petroleum activities in the northern areas should to be assessed before activities in these areas could continue. All petroleum activity in the Barents Sea was called to a halt awaiting this assessment, which was called "Impact assessment of year-round petroleum activities in the Lofoten-Barents Sea area (ULB). A total of 26 scientific basis assessments were conducted for ULB on different subjects during the period 2001-2003.
On the basis of ULB, the Cabinet decided in 2003 to permit continued year-round petroleum activities in those areas that had already been opened up in the southern part of the Barents Sea, with some exceptions. The exceptions were the coastal areas in Troms and Finnmark and the particularly valuable areas the polar front, the ice edge, Bj°rn°ya and Troms°flaket. Nor did the Cabinet permit continued petroleum activities in Nordland VI. It was proposed that a further assessment of this issue should be made when the overall management plan for the Barents Sea is ready, probably in 2006. The Cabinet decision on the northern areas was presented to the Storting in Storting White Paper No. 38 (2003-2004). The Storting endorsed the Cabinet's view.
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