Statoil's operations in Norwegian waters have gradually migrated north from the North Sea and Norwegian Sea to beyond the Polar Circle. We operate the producing Snøhvit gas field in the Barents Sea and the world's northernmost liquid natural gas (LNG) facility in northern Norway.
We are partners in the producing Terra Nova and Hibernia fields, and the Hebron and Hibernia Southern Extension field developments, all off the coast of eastern Canada. We have 16 operated leases in the Chukchi Sea off north-west Alaska, and are a partner with ConocoPhillips in 50 leases there, and we have three exploration licences in Baffin Bay off the coast of Greenland. We have made discoveries in the Havis and Skrugard fields off the coast of northern Norway, and in the Mizzen field off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. In addition, we signed a major exploration deal with the Russian company Rosneft that covers four licences in the Russian sector of the Barents Sea and the Okhotsk Sea.
In November 2012, Rosneft and Statoil signed a "Declaration on Protection of the Environment and Biodiversity for Oil and Gas Exploration and Development on the Russian Arctic Continental Shelf." The pact reaffirms our commitment to sustainable development, including minimising the impact of oil and gas activities on indigenous populations and climate change.
Step by step
Statoil pursues a sustainable step-wise approach to its Arctic endeavours. "The Arctic is highly diverse with a multitude of different challenges. Consequently, we have divided our offshore Arctic approach into three separate categories: the workable, the stretch and the extreme," says Rúni M. Hansen, vice president of Statoil's Arctic unit and a native of the Faroe Islands.
"The workable category covers completely ice-free areas. The stretch category is seasonally ice free, like the Beaufort Sea in Canada and western Greenland, where some level of new technological development is needed, but the challenges are entirely within our capabilities. The extreme category is a distant future option. It is the part of the Arctic covered in ice year round."
Statoil is sensitive to stakeholder concerns about the Arctic. "We strongly believe that dialogue between local people, the authorities and the industry is vital to our success in the Arctic. The foundations we lay today are for activities many decades in the future. We are taking it step by step, both technically and operationally," says Hansen.
Statoil is conducting several long-term industrial research projects with universities and institutions that focus on developing innovative technologies for the safe and sustainable exploration and production of oil and gas in the Far North. These include the Sustainable Arctic Marine and Coastal Technology (SAMCoT) project and the Arctic Materials project. The eight-year SAMCoT project, established in 2011, is the basis for developing an environmentally adapted coastal infrastructure. The five-year Arctic Materials project was started in 2008 to establish criteria and solutions for the safe and cost-effective application of materials for hydrocarbon exploration and production in Arctic regions.
Statoil is steadily developing new tools relevant for operations in the far Far North and Arctic region, such as simulator-based training courses for navigation in ice and ice management. Another focus area is the design of durable structures and vessels for Arctic environments, with the emphasis on reliable prediction of ice loads on both fixed and moored offshore structures.
Ecological balance is vital to sustainability. The six-year Statoil ARCTOS Arctic Research Programme, which ended in 2011, has elevated basic knowledge about Arctic ecosystems, including sensitivity to petroleum components.
A new extensive ecological research programme was initiated by Statoil in 2012. Its goal is to increase knowledge about the physics and ecology of the Lofoten/Vesterålen area. This can help to improve ecosystem understanding and provide support for future impact assessment processes in harsh environments such as the Far North and Arctic areas.
In 2011, Statoil helped to establish the ecosystem-based model (Symbioses) that calculates potential impacts of oil spills on zooplankton and fish populations in northern Norway. Results from the ecological research programme are being synthesised and used to create a Symbioses project model.
Statoil respects the presence of marine mammals in their natural habitat and follows precautionary rules and regulations to minimise potential negative effects of our activities, especially during seismic data acquisition. We always establish a safety zone around the seismic vessel and stop data acquisition if a marine mammal enters the zone.
To study the behavioural reactions of humpback whales to sound from air guns used for seismic exploration, Statoil and other oil companies have funded a four-year study in Australia that will continue in 2013 and 2014.
Local communities and traditional ecological knowledge
To gain a better understanding of the impact of noise on marine mammals, we have invited local inhabitants of the Chukchi Sea communities in Alaska into the process.
"Subsistence hunting and the environment are very important to the local Inupiat people. As part of preparing our impact risk assessment, we interview locals and incorporate their knowledge about the effect of noise on marine mammals from motorboats, footsteps on ice, big ships, the whole range," says marine biologist Jürgen Weissenberger, who heads up Statoil's project to study the impact of seismic noise on marine mammals in the region.
Oil spill response
Oil spill response challenges in the Far North are related to extreme cold, ice-covered waters, the darkness of winter, and limited access to clean-up resources. Prevention is our ultimate goal, but, in the event of an oil spill, we strive to ensure that the response is robust, efficient and well-adapted to local conditions.
To strengthen the oil and gas industry's oil spill response capabilities in the Arctic, a key stakeholder concern, Statoil participated in managing a substantial research programme that ended in 2010. Conducted together with eight other oil companies, it remains the world's largest endeavour ever dedicated to strengthening oil spill response in ice. We are now embarking on a follow-up project for the next five years with industry partners.