EU, Norway eye ‘huge’ Arctic oil and gas deposits

The EU and Norway are meeting in Brussels to discuss energy issues, including the exploitation of possibly huge oil and gas deposits in the Arctic. But a border dispute with Russia is so far holding up exploration in the area.

Short-term issues include increasing Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) deliveries to Europe as well as the planned opening in October 2006 of the “Britpipe” linking Sleipner in Norway to Easington, UK. 

By 2015-2020, natural gas deliveries from Norway are expected to grow from 85 billion cubic meters to 120 bcm, EU officials said.

However, talks on longer-term exploitation of the expected huge oil and gas reserves in the Arctic will probably attract most attention. The region is believed to hold 25% of the earth’s hydrocarbons, according to the US Geological Survey. And as international demand for fossil fuels continues to rise, the High North is attracting growing interest from big oil and gas companies.

But a territorial row between Norway and Russia in the so-called “disputed zone” of the Barents Sea has so far prevented further exploration, let alone commercial exploitation of these resources.

“The potential is huge,” says a Brussels employee of Statoil, the Norwegian state-owned energy company who says clarification is needed on access, ownership and production rules in the region. A “broader international agreement” is needed for the Arctic, he says, adding that “increased political focus” would serve the area.

According to Statoil, natural gas deposits in the Arctic, such as the Shtokman and Snøvit gas fields could provide as much as 50 bcm of gas per year, covering 7-9% of the EU’s entire gas consumption by 2020.

Other problems include the high costs of deep offshore drilling and environmental concerns such as the oil and gas industry’s coexistence with fisheries.

“We have promising gas fields in Norway and Russia, but we don’t have an exact figure on reserves or an idea about how much it will cost to explore them,” Piebalgs said in an interview with EURACTIV in May last year.

The 2005 EU-Norway energy dialogue confirmed interest from both sides to strengthen cooperation on energy efficiency, renewables, and security of energy supply, including exploration and production activities in the Arctic area.

Read this article in Polish  (Rzeczpospolita) and Slovak  (EURACTIV.sk).

Norway covers between 10 and 18% of EU oil demand and about 15% of its natural gas. The country, a member of the European Economic Area since 1994, is the world's third largest exporter of oil and gas after Saudi Arabia and Russia.

Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs is holding talks with his Norwegian counterpart Odd Roger Enoksen on 30 August in Brussels to examine ways of strengthening a bilateral energy dialogue launched in 2002.

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