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To Drill or Not to Drill?
September 21, 2014 09:37

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There’s been a flood of contradictory reports on the joint Arctic project by ExxonMobil and Rosneft, and so Russia-IC has decided to find out what’s really happening to the drilling operations in Russia’s Kara Sea.
Early in August 2014, Rosneft proudly trumpeted the launch of exploratory drilling of Universitetskaya-1, Russia’s northernmost well.
“The start of exploratory drilling in the Kara Sea is the most important event of the year for the global oil and gas industry. As a result of this work we are planning to discover a new Kara Sea oil province. Developing of the Arctic offshore will have a strong positive effect on the Russian economy as a whole,” Igor Sechin, the head of Rosneft, was then quoted by the company’s official website.
The operations started on the West Alpha rig that was provided by the Norwegian company North Atlantic Drilling which signed long-term agreements with Rosneft for the offshore drilling on 30 July 2014. West Alpha was transported via the Barents, Pechora and Kara Seas and installed on the drilling site of the East Prinovozemelskiy-1 Licence Area in the Kara Sea. The drilling rig made the way of over 1900 nautical miles to reach its destination. The rig is 30,700 tons in deadweight, 70 m long, 66 m wide, the derrick towers 108.5 meters over the main deck.
“The rig is held on the drilling site by an 8-anchor positioning system, which provides advanced stability for the rig. Most of the platform is outside the reach of waves. The maximum drilling depth of West Alpha is 7 km. The drilling will continue for two months,” the corporation’s statement went on.
The rig was said to be equipped with an innovative system for ice monitoring and icebergs detection, including infrared cameras and modern onboard radars, also getting satellite and air monitoring data.

However, after the new sanctions by the US and the EU media reports began to emerge implying that ExxonMobil would be forced to pull out of the project.
In particular, Bloomberg reported that US oil giants Rosneft and ExxonMobil would put their plans of exploratory drilling in the Arctic Ocean on hold until at least early 2015.
The head of Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry was quick to dismiss the rumors. Speaking at the Sochi investment forum, Sergey Donskoy calmed down investors saying the news has not been confirmed and that drilling is underway according to schedule.

The intrigue was high when ExxonMobil finally explained the reason for contradictory reports. In its official statement, it acknowledged there were legal issues with the joint project with Russia’s Rosneft but said it managed to get a short reprieve to be able to finish the necessary work this year.
Here is the statement:
“The US Treasury Department, recognizing the complexity of the University-1 well and the sensitive Kara Sea arctic environment, has granted a license to ExxonMobil and other US contractors and persons involved to enable the safe and responsible winding down of operations related to this exploration well. The license recognizes the need to protect the safety of the individuals involved in these operations as well as the risk to the environment. All activities related to the wind down will proceed as safely and expeditiously as possible.”

Basically, this means the US oil giant has enough time to complete the drilling and the plugging of the first of some 40 wells before the sanctions regime kicks in. ExxonMobil would have to put its offshore operations on hold anyway due to the ice that is bound to cover the area in late October. 

Author: Mikhail Vesely

Tags: Rosneft     

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