With the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy opening the country’s 24th licensing round, focus is firmly on the Barents Sea, which holds 93 of the 102 blocks on offer.

Many of the world’s major oil and gas companies are involved in exploration and development projects in the offshore regions of Norway. This renewed interest in the region has been stimulated, in part, by the 2011 agreement between Norway and Russia to define their shares of the Barents Sea: a deal that followed decades of negotiations and brought significant new offshore acreage onto the European oil and gas map.

One company that remains active in the region is Acteon Group with operating companies such as IOS InterMoor, Claxton, Pulse and NCS Survey working out of four bases: Dusavik in Stavanger, Mongstad near Bergen, Vestbase in Kristiansund and Polarbase in Hammerfest.

Norway oil and gas, Barents Sea, Acteon Group, Will Rowley, exploration, development

“Acteon is building its capacity on the back of strong commercial growth,” said Will Rowley, vice president of Acteon FLS. “A decade ago, activity focused on offshore southern Norway, where the water depths are relatively shallow and fields are generally developed using jackup rigs. Over time, this changed with a gradual move to deeper water and more demanding offshore environments. Now, the focus has shifted to exploration for new reserves in areas such as the Barents Sea, which may hold as much as one-third of Norway’s recoverable reserves, and the Kara Sea. Although this sea is in Russian territorial waters, it is serviced from Northern Norway.”

From Potential To Development

There seems to be widespread agreement on the resource potential of the Barents Sea. But as with many of the new frontier areas, translating resource potential into development is a complex technical and economic challenge.

The levels of uncertainty are still high and until more wells are drilled, the naturally conservative nature of development planning means there will be hesitation in committing the vast sums of required expenditure to accelerate development activity.

“The prognosis of a record number of expected wells to be drilled this year is positive, but should be tempered by the timeline of post drilling activity which can stretch into years of evaluation and development planning,” Rowley said. “While field operators may be targeting specific anomalies or areas in order to pinpoint the largest initial exploration prospect, as a service business our view is across the whole Barents Sea.

“It is easy to underestimate the logistical challenges in providing 24/7 support to offshore operations that are not only close to the limits of helicopter operations, but without the highly developed local infrastructure of business and industry that is inherent in other ‘oil towns’ such as Bergen or Stavanger,” Rowley added.

Challenging Environment

It is easy to underplay the environmental challenges that operations in the Barents Sea entail. From physical challenges of working in extreme low temperatures and harsh waters to the practical challenges this puts on service and support companies providing personnel, equipment and normal operational requirements. The remoteness and harshness puts excessive strain on people and equipment whilereinforcing the need for enhanced safety in a sensitive natural environment.

There are several practical challenges that underlinetechnology challenges for development of the Barents Sea.

“The extreme distances to shore of export pipelines combined with extreme low temperatures, a high environmental baseline that demands no damage or leaks and high intervention costs mean that any planned operations will require cutting edge technology to support the economic development of identified resources,” Rowley said.

Long-term Project

The Acteon companies are investing in additional and new equipment to provide existing and enhanced services across the Barents Sea area, Rowley said.

“In an area prone to icebergs and extreme weather we have developed new emergency quick release mechanisms to allow drilling rigs to temporarily disconnect from their mooring systems and move away from approaching icebergs,” he said. “Alongside this we are developing highly developed engineering and modeling on the effects of extreme cold and weather on the fatigue life of key risers and other critical components that will ensure safe operation for decades of planned activity. And finally, we are actively reviewing our local commitments in Tromsø and Hammerfest to provide increased local capability and availability.”

Although there is great interest in the Barents Sea, Rowley sees its development moving forward in fits and starts as uncertainty decreases and confidence grows to create a positive cycle of additional investment and eventually enough volume to provide sustainability going forward.

“The movement from a frontier area to a sustainable development area though is still a five to 10-year project,” he said.