Gazprom has started preparations to drill two exploration wells in the Barents Sea almost a decade after the Russian player opted to postpone the much-hyped development of the Shtokman gas field in the area.

The plans from the state-controlled gas monopoly will be closely watched as it will need a semi-submersible rig but will be limited in its search due to sanctions imposed on Russia by Western powers over the 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

According to a tender disclosure notice from the company’s exploration subsidiary, Gazprom Nedra, the plan is to spud wells on the Ledovy and Ludlovsky blocks that lie to the north-east of the Shtokman field, which has estimated reserves of almost 4 trillion cubic metres of gas.

The blocks already contain two gas fields — Ledovy and Ludlovsky — that were discovered towards the end of the Soviet era.

Gazprom Nedra is seeking a contractor to conduct comprehensive engineering, geophysical and environmental studies between May and October this year within a 50 square kilometre area at each of the two planned drilling locations.

The availability of these studies will facilitate Russian approvals process and operations of semisub drilling rigs that will have to be mobilised to the Barents Sea as water depths at planned drilling locations are between 150 metres and 240 metres.

Because US and European sanctions prohibit Western contractor from providing rigs for drilling offshore wells below 500 feet (152 metres) in the Russian Arctic region, industry analysts in Moscow expect Gazprom Nedra to chase Chinese-operated semisubs.

Although another Gazprom subsidiary, Gazprom Flot, operates two of its own semisubs — Nothern Lights and Polar Star — near Sakhalin Island in Russia's far east, it is not certain any of the two will be release for the Barents Sea job due to Gazprom’s long-term development drilling programme at the Kirinsky gas block.

Gazprom Nedra has indicated in its tender notice that all research findings at the planned drilling sites will have to be “translated into proper and understandable English”, implying that it does not exclude a foreign drilling contractor being selected for the job.

The company has not released the expected drilling timetable but said it wants all offshore research and studies to be completed before the end of this year.

The Ludlovsky block covers about 5000 square kilometres and is around five times larger than the Ledovy tract.

Based on the results of the two earlier wells on the Ledovy block, its recoverable gas reserves are estimated at about 422 billion cubic metres.

Meanwhile, three wells on the Ludlovsky block have allowed for an estimate of its recoverable reserves of 211 Bcm.

Gas layers at both blocks have been found at depths of between 1300 metres and 2200 metres, according to reports in Moscow.