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Rosneft and ExxonMobil start drilling in the Arctic Kara Sea

Rosneft and ExxonMobil joint venture company Karmorneftegaz began drilling of Universitetskaya-1, the Russian Federation’s northernmost well, using the West Alpha rig in the Kara Sea. The Kara Sea is part of the Arctic Ocean north of West Siberia. (Earlier post.)

Click to enlarge.

The start of the drilling was launched by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a video teleconference with head of Rosneft Igor Sechin and head of ExxonMobil Russia Glenn Waller who were both present on the drilling platform in the Kara Sea.

As I have already said, all this great work was made possible by uniting the efforts of Rosneft and our US partner, ExxonMobil. Practice shows that it is nearly impossible, or at least very difficult, to implement alone such large high-tech projects, projects of global scale and significance. Today commercial success is determined by effective international cooperation.

In spite of the difficult current political situation, pragmatism and common sense still have the upper hand, and that is very gratifying. In our opinion, this is a truly responsible, business-like approach, and only such an approach can be productive. We certainly welcome this position and, in turn, are open to expanding our cooperation with partners.

Once again, I stress, ExxonMobil is our old, reliable partner, and we greatly value our relationship. I am convinced that joint projects between Rosneft and ExxonMobil, as well as other companies, will benefit our national economy, contribute to improving the global energy situation and will undoubtedly lead to the development of breakthrough technologies and job creation.

—President Putin

The sea depth at the drilling site is 81 m, and the designed depth of the vertical well is 2350 m from the rotary table. An Environmental Impact Assessment, an Oil Spill Response Plan and other pieces of project documentation were developed and approved by regulatory authorities for the project to proceed. The operations were preceded by public consultations, a State Environmental Expertise and a Main State Expertise. Rosneft and ExxonMobil are also working on the implementation of the approved strategy regarding other joint projects.

The West Alpha rig was provided by the Norwegian company North Atlantic Drilling which signed long-term agreements with Rosneft on 30 July 2014 for the offshore drilling. West Alpha was transported via the Barents, Pechora and Kara Seas and installed on the drilling site of the East Prinovozemelskiy-1 Licence Area in the Kara Sea.

The drilling rig made the way of more than 1900 nautical miles to reach its destination. The rig is 30,700 tons in deadweight, 70 m long, 66 m wide, the derrick hangs 108.5 meters over the main deck, and it drafts during drilling for 21.5 m.

West Alpha semi-submersible rig. Source: North Atlantic Drilling. Click to enlarge.

The rig is held on the drilling site by an 8-anchor positioning system, which provides advanced stability for the rig. Most of the platform is outside the reach of waves. The maximum drilling depth of West Alpha is 7 km. The drilling will continue for two months.

Rosneft and ExxonMobil experts spent several months preparing the rig for the Kara Sea drilling operation. West Alpha was upgraded to improve the overall reliability of its main and supplementary equipment and for all systems to be ready for low temperatures, including life support and evacuation systems.

The rig is equipped with an innovative system for the monitoring of ice condition, icebergs detection and tracking of sea ice. It uses infrared cameras and modern onboard radars, and analyzes satellite and air intelligence data.

Rosneft and ExxonMobil developed an iceberg collision prevention plan, which includes applying physical action to the ice. Should experts suspect a hummock or floe can damage the rig, special support vessels will tow it away to a safe distance. If physical action is impossible, the system will isolate the well in a way that is harmless for the environment, and the rig will transfer to a safer location. The rig is equipped with two groups of blowout preventers and an enhanced subsea shut-in device.

Russian offshore harsh environment areas. Source: North Atlantic Drilling. Click to enlarge.

The Universitetskaya structure covers an area of 1200 thousand kilometers with a 550 m high hydrocarbon trap. Its resources account to more than 1.3 billion tons of oil equivalent. A total of some 30 structures were found in three East Prinovozemelskiy areas of the Kara Sea, and the entire resource base of the three areas is estimated at 87 billion barrels or 13 billion tonnes of oil equivalent.

The Kara sea oil province could exceed in terms of resources volume such oil and gas provinces as Gulf of Mexico, Brazilian shelf, Arctic shelf of Alaska and Canada and is comparable with the current resource base of Saudi Arabia.


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