August 4, 2008

Norway Looks To Drill In Pristine Arctic Waters

On Monday, Norwegian energy authorities completed a seismic survey of Arctic waters near the scenic Lofoten islands.

But environmental groups say the area should be permanently out of bounds to oil and gas drilling.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) finished a three-dimensional seismic survey of the Troms II area north of Lofoten despite a late start due to logistical problems.

In June, the NPD scaled down the survey of the undeveloped offshore seas, which industry wants opened for oil and gas exploration to sustain Norway's petroleum export boom.

NPD spokeswoman Eldbjorg Vaage said they were able to complete the entire 700 square kilometer survey because weather and sea conditions were favorable for seismic data gathering.

The survey, which produces a seismic picture of the seabed that can be interpreted by geologists, is needed to decide whether to allow oil and gas activities in the pristine region.

Oil companies, whose North Sea resources are running out, back the plan while environmental groups as well as two parties in the three-party center-left government coalition oppose it.

Some time after next year's general election, a final decision on whether to open up the areas for exploration will be made.

Norway's oil production peaked at more than 3 million barrels per day in 2000 and has declined to about 2 million this year as output from maturing North Sea oilfields continues to decline. Production of natural gas, however, is on the rise.

"We will not publish this data, it will be used in connection with a revision of the management plans for the Barents Sea and the areas near the Lofoten islands," Vaage said.

A shipyard delay of a seismic vessel owned by Bergen Oilfield Services (BOS) and an engine room-fire on a Petroleum Geo-Services seismic vessel delayed the controversial scans for three weeks.

Seismic vessels use sound waves to map the ocean floor and indicate which areas may have deposits of oil or gas, which can later be confirmed by more expensive and invasive drilling.

Lower resolution 2-D scans would continue until September 15, in line with earlier plans, the NPD said.

With the development of new deepwater and seabed exploration technology, soaring energy prices and limited availability of acreage worldwide, the area off the picturesque Lofoten islands and just north of it, Nordland VII and Troms II, has been increasingly interesting for oil and gas companies.

Image Courtesy Michael Haferkamp, Wikipedia


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