Equinor and Austrian partner OMV have given the Norwegian drilling sector a much-needed boost as the pair chase bidders to provide a rig for an unusually lengthy charter period, with an innovative power-from-shore element set to challenge the contracting community.

The two players are readying a seven-year rig contract covering development drilling work at Equinor's challenging and potentially huge Wisting scheme in the Barents Sea, and also on OMV's Iris-Hades project in the Norwegian Sea.

For Wisting, the winning bidder will have to provide a unit that can receive electric power from a floating production vessel that will exploit the field and that Equinor hopes will be powered from shore.

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Competition for the contract is expected to be fierce due to the lengthy duration of the charter.

The winning rig is expected to drill wells at OMV’s Iris-Hades project first — potentially starting in 2024 — before taking on the bigger, boundary-pushing job at the Wisting oil project in 2026.

Wisting — which will be operated by Equinor in the development phase, with OMV taking over the helm from the start of production — is estimated to hold between 400 million and 500 million barrels of oil.

Upstream has learned that Equinor has been holding regular meetings with Odfjell Drilling, Dolphin Drilling, Awilco Drilling and Normod over the mooted rig contract.

Although all four are considered serious contenders for the job, some sources with knowledge of the process have put Odfjell as the slight favourite due to a previous strong performance in terms of drilling efficiency for Equinor, with which it has a master frame agreement.

However, Equinor has similar agreements with Seadrill and Transocean, which cannot yet be ruled out of the race for the lucrative contract, according to one well-placed source.

The envisaged date of a contract award remains unclear. Equinor is talking to potential bidders to learn more about efficient and low-emission drilling.

Equinor is interested in an efficient rig with low emissions for Wisting and wants a unit with a battery-based hybrid-power system, which would mean some bidders having to convert existing units.

The operator is considering powering the Sevan cylindrical concept floating production, storage and offloading unit from shore, and is looking at the possibility of powering the drilling rig from that FPSO.

This could mean that the winner must convert its rig to enable it to receive power through an electrical cable linked to the FPSO.

However, until the FPSO arrives on location, the rig is expected to drill the first few development wells under its own power.

Upstream has learned that Equinor has initiated a project with Odfjell Drilling to explore the potential for powering a drilling rig via a cable from the giant Johan Sverdrup oilfield in the Norwegian North Sea.

If this succeeds, it is expected that Equinor will require similar solutions to be installed near all its fields powered from shore.

An Equinor spokesman declined to comment on the Wisting and Iris-Hades drilling contract and the electrical drilling project at Johan Sverdrup.

In the middle of last year, Equinor and OMV signed a pair of memoranda of understanding to co-operate on the Wisting development and the concept development for the Iris-Hades discovery.

Equinor operates Wisting on 35% and is joined by OMV on 25%, with Norway’s Petoro and Japan’s Idemitsu Petroleum each on 20%.

The Iris-Hades project, in production licence 644/B/C, is located on Haltenbanken in the Norwegian Sea.

Preliminary estimates indicate a complex holding resources of 40 million to 245 million barrels of oil equivalent.

OMV operates the licence on 30% and is joined by Equinor on 40%, DNO on 20% and Spirit Energy on 10%.