Hammerfest bassin gas in the Norwegian Arctic | Polarjournal
One of the Norwegian extraction platforms in the Ekofisk field, one of the largest fields in Norway, producing about 100,000 barrels per day and expected to be depleted by 2050. Image: Norsk Teknisk Museum

Oil exploration in the Barents Sea is delimited by exploration areas. The northernmost one in Scandinavia is located in the Barents Sea and seems to have exploitable gas stocks near the coast. This is a source of interest to the Norwegian Ministry of Oil and Energy, to meet European demand.

On January 10, Norway unveiled, as it does every year, the list of oil exploration permits for its maritime territories. In 2023, 47 new licenses will benefit 25 companies. Some of them will conduct research in 2 new lots in the Barents Sea exploration area (APA) in the Arctic. A region that would contain two thirds of the country’s hydrocarbons according to Reuters. But Laurent Gernigon, a geologist at the Norwegian Geological Survey, remains cautious: “it depends on the maturity of the deposits, their accessibility”. In 2024, Norway promises to allocate almost twice as many licenses, mainly in the Barents Sea APA.

The Ministry of Petroleum and Energy is guiding petroleum exploration by opening up new spaces within the APA. “Continuing the extraction activity and making new discoveries is important for maintaining our oil and gas production over time and is necessary for Europe and Norway,” said Minister of Petroleum and Energy Terje Aasland.

For more than a year, Europe has been increasing its supply of oil products from Norway. “The only thing that can be done at the moment to meet this demand is to increase existing production, because it takes about 10 years before a lot that is open to exploration starts producing,” explains Laurent Gernigon.

To obtain a permit from the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy, oil companies apply by proving that they have knowledge of the nature and geology of the seabed and are prepared to conduct seismic studies. The Norwegian government also ensures that companies are ready to go into production if they discover a pocket of exploitable gas or oil.

Once a permit is obtained, each company must invest in seismic surveys and produce 2D and 3D images of the seabed in areas of interest. The accuracy of the images will then determine where to drill. Last December, Vår Energi drilled a gas pocket of about 100 million barrels. French domestic consumption of petroleum products in 2021 was 67 million barrels. The company Vår Energi was very pleased with this success in the north.

On the left, a map of the Barrents Sea APA, showing in blue the two new exploration areas, in red the already discovered gas pockets and in green the oil pockets. On the right, the route of the Barents Sea pipeline. Images: Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD)

Laurent Gernigon explains that “this drilling is located in the Goliat sector of the Barents Sea APA, in the Arctic, and more precisely in the Hammerfest basin. This is a basin where the continental crust was stretched and then large quantities of sediments were deposited. This portion of the APA is crossed by a fault along which Jurassic rocks migrate to the surface in the form of oil and gas and are trapped by the upper layers.

“I see the future of mining in the Barents Sea here, in the southern part of the Norwegian Arctic. The basin is close to the coast, a pipeline network and industrial infrastructure.”

Laurent Gernigon

Since the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, oil exploration in the north has been controversial in Norway. Greenpeace believes that the pack ice area is too close and that an oil spill would be all the more catastrophic if it were to become trapped under the ice. According to Reuter, Lars Haltbrekken, a lawyer from the left-wing Socialist Party, wants to fight these decisions and reduce or even stop the northward advance. This question has haunted the Norwegian political landscape for more than 10 years.

This country has been investing in renewable energy since the 1980s. Today, 92% of its energy is hydroelectric and its fossil fuel production is destined for export. In an undefined future, it may export the metals needed for Europe’s energy transition.

The Norwegian Petroleum Products Agency revealed in late January that significant quantities of more than 20 types of minerals, including rare earths, are believed to be hiding in the crust of ocean ridges. However, at present, the technologies and production solutions are not mature enough to warrant a study on the exploitability of these mineral resources.

Camille Lin, PolarJournal

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