Rosneft faces Kara Sea exit call

Targeted: Greenpeace in earlier protest on West Alpha at Westcon yard

Greenpeace is calling on Rosneft shareholders to abort a planned exploration drilling effort with ExxonMobil in the Kara Sea this summer based on critical findings from research by the Russian state-owned oil giant’s own scientists.

The proposed probe targeting the Universitetskaya structure at the East Prinovozemelsky block will be the first to be drilled by ExxonMobil under its Arctic exploration pact with Rosneft.

The pair intend to use Seadrill’s 1986-built semi-submersible rig West Alpha, which is being winterised at Norwegian yard Westcon, for the controversial work that is scheduled to kick off in August.

The drilling operation, targeting potential resources of a reported 9 billion barrels in the overall play, is estimated to cost at least $600 million – making it one of the most expensive wells ever to be drilled by the US supermajor.

Greenpeace has now written an open letter to Rosneft shareholders - including UK supermajor BP - urging them to halt the drilling bid as they gathered for the company’s annual general meeting on Friday.

It follows the results of a recent expedition by 33 scientists from Rosneft and ExxonMobil to study Arctic ice and weather conditions for future upstream operations in the Kara and Laptev seas, and western part of the East Siberian Sea.

The scientists who participated in the two-month fact-finding mission aboard ice-breaker Yamal, completed earlier this month, were reported by Barents Observer to have found nearly 1000 icebergs in the area.

Expedition leader Andrey Tyuryakov was quoted as saying ice conditions in the area vary and could pose a challenge for oil production, adding that one iceberg near Peschany Cape had a height of 15 metres above water and also extended 95 metres below the waterline.

“Our research should shock, or at least alert, our client,” he said.

The green watchdog claims in the letter the research findings confirm the environmental risk of a potential oil spill from drilling in the Arctic region given there is presently no available clean-up technology to tackle such incidents in icy conditions.

Furthermore, the group stated: “We cannot be sure that Rosneft is ready to work in such conditions, because its oil spill contingency plan for Kara Sea drilling that is to start this year is not available. The company refused Greenpeace’s request to provide this text and publish it in the public domain.”

 It added the International Energy Agency (IEA) has found that ice conditions and migration of icebergs can present serious logistical obstacles to offshore oil and gas operations.

In a report prepared for the Russian government, the IEA estimated that Arctic oil production would account for only 5.5 million tonnes (43.5 million barrels), or 1.1%, of the country’s annual crude output by 2035, according to the group.

Greenpeace has also called into question the commercial viability of costly Arctic exploration, given earlier high-profile and expensive failed efforts by Cairn Energy off Greenland and Shell off Alaska.

It added that Russian state-owned Gazprom had aborted plans to drill seven out of nine wells planned in three Arctic offshore areas due to the lack of available technology for shallow-water drilling in the ice-bound region.

Greenpeace Norway’s Arctic campaigner Erling Tellnes claimed the Kara Sea is prone to ice year-round and questioned whether the nearly 30-year-old rig, which has previously been boarded by the group in a protest against Arctic drilling, could withstand the extreme conditions.

Drilling is set to take place in a licence that overlaps Russia’s Arctic National Park that is a habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including polars bears and walruses, and also hosts a bird colony.

Meanwhile, Tellnes said a new report by Norway’s Environment Agency exposing regulatory breaches related to leak management on several fields off Norway served to underline that operators are ill-prepared to tackle the risks of Arctic exploration.

“Although the companies themselves say they have adequate emergency back-up plans, that is far from the truth. Statoil, for instance, has licences in icy waters all around the Arctic Ocean, including licences close to the ice edge on the Norwegian shelf, despite the fact that there is no adequate technology to clean up oil spills from ice,” he said.

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