Approximately one fifth of the world’s undiscovered petroleum reserves are believed to lie in the challenging Arctic region. Statoil is one of nine major international oil companies that recently came together in the largest collaborative research endeavour of its kind to ensure these resources are produced in a safe and responsible way.
The Norwegian oil company entered the joint industry programme Oil Spill Response Technology, led by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, in January. Together with BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Eni, ExxonMobil, North Caspian Oil Company, Shell, and Total, they have pledged to contribute USD 20 million in R&D funds over the next four years to expand industry knowledge and capabilities in Arctic oil spill prevention and response.
The initiative is considered the largest pan-industry project dedicated to this field of research and development. The background for its start-up was a 2009 joint committee by the IPIECA Oil Spill Working Group (OSWG), Industry Technical Advisory Committee, and the API Emergency Preparedness and Response Programme that reviewed past research spills on ice, identified advances, and determined prioritised research needs.
The committee recommended the industry establish a joint industry programme (JIP) focusing on seven key areas for research: dispersants, environmental effects, trajectory modelling, remote sensing, mechanical recovery, in situ burning, and experimental field releases. The companies have spread these focus areas among nine different JIP projects currently underway, such as the fate of dispersed oil under dynamic drift and pack ice and surface and undersea remote sensing of oil spills.
Among the key challenges facing oil companies in the Arctic are prolonged periods of darkness, extreme cold, distant infrastructure, presence of sea ice offshore and a higher cost of doing business. The JIP said it is realistic about these unique challenges. But by working together it can ensure the most efficient use of resources, funding and expertise to improve technologies and methodologies for Arctic spill response.
Tripling Arctic Research
On top of its involvement in the JIP, Statoil has created a “technology road map” to prepare for activities in harsher areas. The company plans to treble its current Arctic research budget from NOK 80 million in 2012 to NOK 250 million in 2013, a research cruise to northeast Greenland in September, and mature an Arctic drill concept that can operate in a wide range of water depths across the Arctic, including integrated operations in drifting ice.
“We have now directed our strategic focus towards developing technology for exploration and production on ice,” said Margareth Øvrum, Statoil technology, project and drilling executive vice president, in the August announcement. “A new dedicated unit has been established to solve these challenges.”
Statoil is currently present in the Arctic via its cooperation agreement signed with Rosneft in May 2012, which calls for joint exploration in the Norwegian and Russian Barents seas, and a joint technical study agreement. It is also present offshore Newfoundland, the North American Arctic, and Baffin Bay in northwest Greenland.