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We recognise that there is opposition to exploring the Barents Sea, but 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.

Where are we currently exploring?

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Currently, we are exploring four licences awarded by the Norwegian Ministry of Energy and Petroleum. Our exploration of the Barents Sea 2017—2019 will help clarify future opportunities in the Barents Sea and for the Norwegian continental shelf.

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

Fact:
We will only explore in completely open sea, and thanks to the Gulf Stream, the ice edge can be as far away as 400–500 km away. That’s as far as Oslo to Bergen. And in line with regulatory requirements we will stop operations in oil-bearing strata, or move the rig, if any ice gets closer than 50 km.

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

Fact:
Drilling in the Barents Sea is little different from the rest of the Norwegian shelf, where we been safely exploring for oil for nearly 50 years. More than 150 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.

Fact:
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.

Fact:
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.

Fact:
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.  

Our partners

Equinor is the operator of all blocks explored, but we also cooperate closely with our partner companies in the licences: AkerBP, Lundin, Petoro, DNO, Conoco Phillips, OMV og Vår Energi

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 ice edge? We asked Equinor’s 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

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Kenneth Johannessen Eik

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

  • Technically speaking, this operation is no different from the rest of the Norwegian continental shelf, where we have safely carried out exploration drilling for nearly 50 years. More than 150 wells have already been drilled in the Barents Sea without any serious incidents.
  • We use two modern, floating, self-propelled mobile rigs that are specially designed for operations in cold climates. They leave the location after the operation. 
  • The exploration area has been ice-free in summer for 50 years (since 1967).
  • We constantly monitor any potential drift ice in the area using satellites and aircraft.
  • We will stop drilling in oil-bearing strata, or remove the rigs from the drilling sites, if sea ice comes closer than 50 km, as required by Norwegian authorities.
  • 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 rigs:

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We use two of  the most advanced exploration rigs available, West Hercules and Transocean Enabler.


West Hercules is a fully-winterised rig with extensive experience from drilling operations in cold climates and Arctic areas. It can be used in summer or winter, and has been used for several seasons in the Barents Sea. 

Transocean Enabler is also specially-designed for operations in cold climates and meets the most stringest environmental requirements, DNVGL’s ”Clean Design” classification. It is equipped with the 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?

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

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

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

Frequently asked questions

We know that there are many eyes on us as we explore 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. 

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Hammerfest. Photo: Øyvind A. Holm, Wikimedia Commons

Why do we need to explore for more oil?

Why explore the Barents Sea at all? It’s all about energy security for the world, economic security for Norway — and 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. 

We always put safety first: emergency preparedness

All of our operations are always supported by comprehensive emergency preparedness, but some of these operations are taking place far from shore and therefore require additional preparedness. We have therefore upgraded our already comprehensive emergency preparedness which is present throughout our exploration campaign.

This includes use of standby vessels with towing capacity, supply vessels, search and rescue helicopters, NOFO oil protection systems, mobilisation vessels, hospital, SAR-cameras and helidecks. 

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