Arctic Oil Tempts Norway to Seek Drilling at ‘Gates of Hell’
Norway has started a push to explore for oil and natural gas in more remote regions like its Arctic volcanic island of Jan Mayen, as the country seeks to reverse almost a decade of dwindling North Sea output.
“We’ve explored an increasingly large part of the Norwegian shelf,” Oil Minister Terje Riis-Johansen said in an interview on a trip to the barren outpost on Sept. 23. “If we now wish to develop Norway as an oil and gas nation, it will have to be in other areas.”
Diminishing access to traditional reserves is prompting countries to turn to unconventional sources such as oil sands and shale-rock formations to meet demand. Russia, Canada, the U.S. and Iceland are vying for a stake of the Arctic, which may hold as much as 50 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil.
Crude output from Norway, the world’s fifth-biggest oil exporter, peaked between 2000 and 2001 and may fall 9.7 percent this year, according to the Petroleum Directorate. Norway gets almost a 25 percent of its economic output from oil and gas, which has made it the world’s second-richest nation and financed its cradle-to-grave welfare system.
Jan Mayen Island is reputed to have been discovered by the Irish monk Brendan in the 6th century, who sailed past it during volcanic activity and thought he had found the “gates of hell,” according to a hand-out by the oil ministry. “This is extreme exploration,” Bente Nyland, head of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, said in an interview on the island on Sept. 23. “You’re in an area where you have very little control, so you need to have a lot more knowledge before you can start any activity.”
BP, Europe’s second-largest oil company, estimates the Arctic Ocean may hold around 200 billion barrels of oil equivalent, or 25 percent to 50 percent of the world’s undiscovered hydrocarbons.
Last year, the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the area to hold 90 billion barrels of oil.