Historic day for Norway and Russia

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Norway’s government leaders were in Murmansk on Wednesday to sign an historic agreement with their Russian counterparts on how the Barents Sea will be divided between their two countries. The deal is expected to set off a new era of oil and gas exploration in the far Arctic north.

Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg showing the way during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's state visit to Norway last spring, when the historic agreement for the Barents was announced. PHOTO: Statsministerenskontor

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre were winging their way to the strategic Russian city, each in their separate private jet, to meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov for the meeting that’s widely viewed as a triumph for both governments. It ends 40 years of negotiations on territorial rights in an environmentally sensitive area believed to be rich in natural resources.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Wednesday, though, that the Russians may have far more detailed knowledge of the area’s potential wealth than the Norwegians have, and will wind up with far more of the Barents’ oil and gas. The Russians think there may be more oil and gas on their side of the new dividing line than all that’s been produced off Norway since the 1960s.

“The Russians know more than we can imagine,” Rune Rafaelsen of the Barents Secretariat told DN, noting that former Soviet geologists conducted secret seismic examinations of the seabed in the 1970s and ’80s, both in their own territory at the time and in the disputed areas.

“Remember that Stockman (the Russian gas field due to be developed in cooperation with Norwegian and French energy companies) was discovered already in 1988,” Rafaelsen told DN. The Russians, he said, have estimated their new territory holds as much as 50 billion barrels of oil and gas.

Now the Russians are expected to move quickly with more seismic exploration, probably more quickly than the Norwegians, who always encounter political conflicts among environmental, fishing and energy interests that must be sorted out before any work can begin. Between 6 billion and 13 billion barrels of oil are expected to be found in Norway’s new Barents territory.

Norwegian companies both in Murmansk and at home continue to wait for a decision on when the Stockman field will start being developed. It’s an expensive and complicated project in a gas market that’s changed dramatically in recent years.

Now offshore companies like Reinertsen AS of Trondheim hope other projects will materialize as well. “We can’t just base our existence only on Stockman,” Geir Suul, director of business development for Reinertsen, told DN. “The new delelinje will clear the way for more development on the Russian side, and in areas closer to land that can be built out quicker.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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