HOUSTON—Austria-based OMV has already discovered more than an estimated 1 billion barrels of oil in place with up to about 500 million barrels of recoverable reserves at the Wisting Field, which lies far north in the Arctic’s Barents Sea.

The operator, working with Schlumberger, has also proven that it can drill a shallow horizontal offshore well from a floating drilling facility, having landed out horizontally about 250 m beneath the seabed and extended about 1,400 m.

But the biggest challenge for the development may still lie ahead for OMV and its partners: planning for and coping with sea ice and the unknown obstacles it could pose.

Speaking during the Arctic Technology Conference in Houston this week, Andrew Train, head of projects for OMV Norway, spoke about the project that is billed as the largest undeveloped discovery on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.

“This is significant for Norway and it’s very significant for OMV,” Train said of Wisting.

The Wisting discovery, located in the Hoop area of the Barents Sea, sits at a water depth of about 400 m. Reservoir characteristics include low pressure and temperature of 70 bars and 17 C, respectively, along with good quality sands, OMV has said. So far, five fully-appraised wells have been drilled, including through several faults. The concept includes 19 producers and 15 water injectors.

The plan is for oil to be offloaded via a shuttle tanker, given the lack of pipeline infrastructure, and produced gas will be reinjected or used as fuel gas.

However, developers haven’t chosen which type of floating structure it will use, though Train said some options have been thrown out. The choices have come down to either a ship-shaped FPSO or a cylindrical FPSO.

A ship-shaped FPSO is more prevalent with disconnect capability, while a circular FPSO would lend itself to power from shore, Train said. Regardless, the ability to handle sea ice will be a factor in the decision. Developers aim to choose a concept in 2020.

Ice management and assessing ice risk at Wisting are what OMV is busy doing at the moment, Train said. He pointed out wide variations between 10-year, 100-year and 10,000-year returns on sea ice contour maps in the area of the development and the challenge of determining which conditions to design for.

“It is a wide range of uncertainty and has a huge impact on where you actually end up. It’s a key element for the whole development of Wisting—whether we have to deal with sea ice and deal with icebergs and the potential to disconnect,” Train said. “It’s a big issue. …That’s our key consideration. How do we deal with ice?”

Given the range of uncertainty, he said more detailed assessment on ice is needed. OMV and partners have started its technical qualification program working with DNV GL. This involves looking at ice conditions, return periods, ice thickness and design requirements needed, he said, adding modeling as well as ice risk management, surveillance and detection and physical ice management are also part of the program.

“It’s the first [development] in the far, far north,” Train said. There are no compatible fields offshore Norway, he added, but there are fields operating with FPSOs under similar conditions in other parts of the world. “We can learn and implement best practices from Canada.”

Such developments include the Suncor Energy-operated Terra Nova Field, which uses the Terra Nova FPSO offshore Newfoundland, and the Husky Energy-operated White Rose oil field offshore St. Johns, which utilizes the SeaRose FPSO. The two are among the first developments in North America to use FPSOs in harsh weather environments with sea ice and icebergs.

The Terra Nova was specially designed for Arctic conditions. The vessel is ice-strengthened to withstand a 100,000-ton iceberg impact, according to KBR, which carried out engineering, procurement, construction, operations and maintenance for project.

As explained by Suncor, the vessel is double-hulled with five thrusters and an automated global dynamic positioning system that allows it to maintain its headings.

“The same system reduces the impact of waves by allowing the FPSO to change to more favorable headings in high winds and storms,” Suncor said on its website. “In addition to its design specifications, the Terra Nova field operation has measures and practices in place to keep its people, the environment and the facility safe. Its ice management program allows Terra Nova personnel to monitor and deflect icebergs when required.”

Support vessels are also capable of encircling an iceberg with a cable or net to change is direction, while water cannons can be used to push the iceberg into a different direction, the company said.

OMV hopes to learn from the best practices of other Arctic players as the company develops the field.

“It’s really about reaching out for us,” and incorporating best practices from other areas, he said.

Velda Addison can be reached at vaddison@hartenergy.com.