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We recognise that there is opposition to exploring the Barents Sea — and that some people wish to stop us. Nevertheless, we believe it is safe and responsible to do so. Many people have concerns about our activities in the north, but not all of them are based on fact. Below, we explain our answers to five common concerns. You still might not agree with us — but we hope facts won’t hurt.

Concern 1
Some people think Equinor is drilling in the Arctic alongside icebergs and polar bears. 

We only explore in completely open sea. Thanks to the Gulf Stream, the ice edge can be 400–500 km away. That’s as far as Oslo to Bergen. This part of the Barents Sea has been ice-free in summer for at least 50 years. What's more, authority regulations require us to move the rigs if any ice gets closer than 50 km, so we will never be drilling in ice.

Concern 2
Many people have the impression that it’s dangerous and difficult to carry out drilling in the Arctic.

Drilling in the Barents Sea is actually little different from the rest of the Norwegian continental shelf, where we been safely exploring for oil for nearly 50 years. 130 wells have already been drilled in the Barents Sea, with no serious incidents. Even so, we upgraded our emergency preparedness significantly.

Concern 3
Some people think the technology isn’t reliable or good enough to explore safely so far north.

Safety is always our first priority, and the Barents Sea is no exception. We use the most modern drilling rigs available, with advanced monitoring and automated drilling control. They are equipped with the latest safety and purification systems. The rigs have support 24/7 from supply and emergency vessels. 

Concern 4
Some people think the planet cannot cope with even one more oil field.

Equinor is fully committed to the Paris Agreement, and we’re growing our offshore wind power business. At the same time, the world needs more energy than renewables can provide. Existing oil production is dwindling. Even in the two-degree scenario, more oil is needed, just to maintain supply. That’s why we’re exploring for more fields.

Concern 5
Some people think Arctic oil will be uneconomical to produce, and Norway will suffer major economic losses.

Discoveries in the Barents Sea can lead to significant economic development, nationally and locally. Based on our understanding of the geology, we hope to find high quality light oil that’s in demand—and better for the climate.The wells we drill in the Barents Sea are cheaper than many others, thanks to the geology and shallower waters.  

Where are we actually exploring?


We plan to continue our exploration of this region, drilling four wells in the autumn of 2018 and a further two in 2019. In 2017, we explored five licences allocated by the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. Exploration drilling took place in the period from May to September, and was carried out with a floating, self-propelled rig purpose-built for cold climates. 

Our partners

Equinor is the operator of all blocks explored, but we also cooperate closely with our partner companies in the licences, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, DEA, ENI, Lundin, OMV and Petoro. 

What are the conditions actually like in the Barents Sea?

How much ice is there where we plan to drill? How likely are icebergs? And where exactly is the much-debated ice edge? We asked our expert on Arctic ice and meteorology, Kenneth Johannessen Eik, to explain.

Songa platform North sea

We have sufficient high quality data sources on the physical conditions in the southeast Barents Sea to carry out sound and thorough assessments prior to drilling exploration wells. 

We are exploring in the open sea, up to 500 km from the ice edge

Kenneth Johannessen Eik, Equinor

Kenneth Johannessen Eik

Ten reasons why it’s safe to explore the Barents Sea

  • Technically, this operation is no different from the rest of the Norwegian continental shelf, where we have carried out exploration drilling for nearly 50 years. 130 wells have already been drilled in the Barents Sea
  • We explore in ice-free waters during the summer months, with two mobile rigs that float like a ship. The rigs are self-propelled and purpose-built for Arctic conditions—and leave the location afterwards.
  • The areas we explore have been ice-free in summer for 50 years, and there have been fewer than 10 days with ice in winter for the past 14 years.
  • We constantly monitor any potential drift ice in the area using satellites and aircraft.
  • We will remove the rigs from the drilling sites if sea ice comes closer than 50 km, in accordance with Norwegian authority requirements.
  • The drilling operation is monitored by Automatic Drilling Control systems which stop the drilling and close the blowout preventer if any abnormalities arise.
  • If the improbable were to happen and a spillage were to occur, booms would be deployed at once to restrict the spreading and minimise damage to any sea birds that might be in the area. Many measures have been initiated to further reduce the potential for damage, including adjusting the timeframe for the operation, changing the order in which the wells will be drilled, and monitoring seabirds from ships.
  • Biodegradable chemicals are used as far as possible in modern drilling operations, which leave no traces in the environment. These chemicals are familiar to us from our everyday lives, and are used in such everyday products as cat litter, plant fertilisers and foodstuffs. Any harmful chemicals are kept in a closed system with no emissions to the sea.
  • Emergency preparedness vessels and helicopters are on standby 24/7 right next to the rigs for the entire operation. 
  • We upgraded the number of standby vessels and resources available compared with normal operations. 

Discover the many safety features of our drilling rig


We’re using the most advanced exploration rigs available, specially designed and winterised for operations in cold climates. They are built to the most exacting environmental standards, DNVGL’s "Clean Design" classification, and are equipped with ADC, Automatic Drilling Control.

West Hercules and Songa Enabler are two of the most advanced drilling rigs available today, equipped with the very best safety and purification systems, fully-automated computer control of the drilling operations, and heated decks and superstructure. Their environmental footprint is minimal and they emit no harmful substances to the sea. Did you know that we even purify the rainwater?


The rigs have been designed to withstand extreme cold, with heated decks, walkways and superstructures.


If rainwater from the deck contains more than 5 ppm of oil, it is automatically purified on board. 

0 cubic metres

Any contaminated waste water is collected in tanks on board for later purification ashore.

“Songa Enabler” is the newest in a series of four mobile rigs built by Songa Offshore in cooperation with Equinor. This rig floats like a ship, moves under its own power and maintains its position dynamically in the sea using thrusters instead of anchors. In an emergency, this means that the rig can secure the well, disconnect itself and leave the area in a matter of minutes. It is winterised to withstand extreme cold, and is equipped with the most modern safety and purification systems available today. The other rig we are using, West Hercules, is also winterised to the same standards as Songa Enabler.

Frequently asked questions

We know that there are many eyes on us as we prepare for the Barents Sea, and many claims have been made about our operations. Here we seek to provide concrete, balanced answers based on environmental risk analyses conducted by independent third parties and researchers. 

Hammerfest. Photo: Øyvind A. Holm, Wikimedia Commons

Why we need it: essential energy for the world—and economic growth for Norway

Why explore the Barents Sea at all? It’s a question of weighing controlled risk against opportunity.

There is considerable interest in this exploration since many geologists believe that most of the remaining undiscovered resources on the Norwegian continental shelf may be right here in the Barents Sea—and could be of major benefit to future generations of Norwegians, as well as a valuable source of energy for the world. 

Equinor is committed to balancing these apparently conflicting concerns in a responsible way. With the right technology, the right approach and not least the right attitude, we believe this is a task which can, and should, be resolved. 

Safety is always our top priority—here are the emergency vessels are following our rig, 24/7 

Wherever we operate, we always have emergency preparedness on standby. But since parts of our Barents exploration programme will be taking place quite far from shore, we will be taking additional measures to upgrade our emergency preparedness for the duration of the exploration campaign. This involves the use of standby vessels with towing capacity, supply vessels, man overboard (MOB) rescue boats, a hospital, a NOFO oil recovery system, a search and rescue (SAR) helicopter and SAR camera, as well as a helipad on the rig.

A cooperation agreement has been entered with Eni for additional ad hoc emergency preparedness, while all operators on the Norwegian continental shelf are contractually committed through NOROG to assist each other with available capacity should an emergency arise. This means that other rigs operating in the Barents Sea at the same time as Equinor could be mobilised if necessary.

The following resources will be deployed during the exploration campaign: 

west hercules:

Skandi Mongstad will accompany West Hercules as a dedicated standby vessel throughout the exploration campaign, and is equipped as follows:

  • NOFO/standby class
  • NOFO oil recovery system permanently on board 
  • Hospital, sick bay, telemedicinal equipment
  • Redundant MOB boat
  • Polarkode
  • Oil radar and IR camera
  • FIFI

Supply vessels: North Barents and Rem Hrist

songa enabler:

Viking Avant will accompany the rig during the Skruis drilling.

Norman Leader: combined emergency standby and supply vessel


SAR Helicopter


Polarbase will be used as the base for all operations, with  an SAR helicopter stationed in Hammerfest for the Skruis and Intrepid Eagle wells.

For the Korpfjell and Gjøkåsen wells, a helicopter will be stationed in Kirkenes and SAR in Vardø. 

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