Two East Barents wells come up dry

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State-owned oil company Equinor is disappointed while climate activists are relieved: Norway’s Petroleum Directorate has reported that a second well drilled by Equinor and its partners in a once-promising portion of the eastern Barents Sea was “classified as dry,” and has now been “permanently plugged and abandoned.”

Oil exploration efforts at the once-promising Korpfjell field in the eastern Barents Sea have proven to be disappointing. ILLUSTRATION: Equinor

The failure to find oil in the well drilled by the West Hercules rig is the second major disappointment for Equinor and its partners in the portion of the Barents Sea that was once disputed territory with Russia. The dispute was settled in 2010, when Norway and Russia agreed on a new borderline running north from the mainland border between the two countries.

The area, located around 435 kilometers north of Vardø, was viewed as one of the biggest hopes at the time for Norway’s Statoil, which changed its name to Equinor last year. Partners in the field are now listed as Equinor Energy, DNO Norge, Petoro (the Norwegian state’s own entity holding direct oil and gas ownership interests), Lundin Norway and ConocoPhillips Scandinavia.

Exploration drilling in the area was approved by the Norwegian Parliament in 2013. After overcoming protests from environmental organizations, the drilling began in earnest in 2017.

No oil found
The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) now reports that the drilling project at wildcat well 7335/3-1 on Korpfjell has been completed. It was carried out around eight kilometers southeast of an area where the Statoil/Equinor-led partners found some gas, but NPD notes that “the primary exploration target” was to find petroleum in reservoir rocks. That didn’t happen.

Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Tuesday how Equinor has also been disappointed by unsuccessful efforts to find oil and gas at the Gjøkåsen field south of Korpfjell. That means Equinor’s two biggest hopes in the Barents have been dashed.

“We haven’t had the results we hoped for, that’s right,” confirmed Equinor spokesman Morten Eek to DN. While the company had issued a press release on Monday announcing a relatively modest oil and gas discovery in the Norwegian Sea, it didn’t announce the dry well in the Barents.

Equinor (formerly Statoil) used the West Hercules drilling rig in its failed attempts to find oil at Korpfjell in Norway’s easternmost portion of the Barents Sdea. PHOTO: Equinor/Ole Jørgen Bratland

Eek seemed to downplay it, telling DN that “the potential was great, but we have pointed out all along that the chance for a discovery was low.” NPD, meanwhile, reported that the West Hercules drilling rig was now moving on to another wildcat well (7324/6-1) farther to the west in the Sputnik area of the Barents between the North Cape and Bjørnøya (Bear Island). Eek claimed that the drilling expenses, meanwhile, are relatively low because the reservoirs are shallow, while Eek and Equinor itself claim their controversial oil and gas exploration in the sensitive Arctic is carried out “safely and securely.”

Exploration brought to a ‘natural’ halt
While Equinor isn’t giving up on its Arctic exploration, environmental organizations were clearly relieved that the eastern Barents wells were dry. Greenpeace and Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth) are among organizations that filed suit against the Norwegian government’s and Parliament’s allowance of Arctic drilling. Norway’s chapter of Friends of the Earth (Naturvernforbund) was glad another well turned up dry.

“We think it’s very good that they didn’t find anything,” Silje Ask Lundberg, leader of Naturvernforbund, told DN. “When the politicians don’t prevent this (oil exploration and production), it’s good that nature does.”

Opponents to more oil and gas exploration object on the grounds that finding more oil and gas will only add to the carbon emissions that are blamed for climate change and need to be cut. They also worry about the pollution risks in the Arctic and point to all the problems around the Goliat field in the Barents Sea northwest of Hammerfest, and the economic risk assumed by the state because of tax deductions allowed for oil exploration costs. When wells come up dry, the state may have to cover the losses. Several Norwegian economists also note that demand for oil and gas is likely to fall in the years ahead, while discovery of more oil and gas can tend to delay efforts to diversify Norway’s economy and lessen its dependence on the oil industry.

For Equinor’s full response to the opposition and concerns around its Barents Sea exploration program click here (external link to Equinor’s website). Berglund