Transocean Enabler rig; Credit: Jan Arne Wold/Equinor

Oil & gas exploration hit and miss in Barents Sea as Norwegian shelf continues its development

Two Norwegian oil and gas players, Aker BP and Equinor, have completed drilling operations in the Barents Sea, which recently saw the addition of new acreage in the awards in pre-defined areas 2024 (APA 2024) round for further hydrocarbon exploration activity. While Aker BP’s drilling efforts led to a gas discovery, Equinor had no such luck as its well was dry.

Transocean Enabler rig; Credit: Jan Arne Wold/Equinor

The Norwegian Offshore Directorate (NOD) has confirmed a gas discovery in wildcat well 7324/8-4 (Hassel) in the Barents Sea, around 300 kilometers from the northern coast of Norway. While this is the second well drilled in production license 1170, awarded in APA 2021, gas was also recently proven in the first well in the production license, 7324/6-2, which, like Hassel, was drilled with Saipem’s Scarabeo 8 semi-submersible rig.

Based on the preliminary estimates, the size of the discovery is between 0.51 – 0.7 million standard cubic meters (Sm3) of oil equivalent (o.e.), corresponding to 3.23 – 4.42 million bbls o.e. As a result, Aker BP and its partners – Equinor, Petoro, and Inpex Idemitsu Norge – will assess the discovery alongside other discoveries and prospects in the area, with a view toward a potential development.

The recent wells 7324/6-2 and 7324/8-4 were drilled in the Hoop fault complex, in the same vicinity as the 7324/8-1 (Wisting) and 7324/7-2 (Hanssen) oil discoveries. Several wells have been drilled earlier in other production licenses in the area, some of which resulted in discoveries: 7325/4-1 (Gemini Nord), 7324/9 (Mercury), 7324/6-1 (Sputnik), 7324/3-1 (Intrepid Eagle), and 7325/1-1 (Atlantis)).

Furthermore, the objective of the well was to prove petroleum in Middle Jurassic to Upper Triassic reservoir rocks in the Stø and Fruholmen formations. The well 7324/8-4 encountered a 30-meter reservoir zone in the Stø and Fruholmen formations, with an 11-meter gas column, a total of 8 meters in sandstone layers with very good reservoir quality.

The gas/water contact was encountered 686 meters below sea level. While the well was not formation-tested, extensive data acquisition and sampling were completed. The well 7324/8-4 was drilled to a vertical depth of 781 meters below sea level and was terminated in the Snadd Formation in the Upper Triassic. The water depth at the site is 401 meters and the well will be permanently plugged and abandoned.

No hydrocarbons for Equinor

On the other hand, Equinor’s well 7220/2-2 in the Snøras prospect in the Barents Sea, drilled by the Transocean Enabler rig, is said to be dry. This well is located in production license 1080, awarded in APA in 2020. The Norwegian state-owned energy giant and its partners made the Isfjell (7220/2-1) gas discovery in 2014, situated north of the Snøras well.

In addition, south of Snøras in production license 532, the same partnership has made multiple discoveries, which are being considered for tie-back to the Johan Castberg field, where production start is planned for late 2024.

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While the objective of the wildcat well was to prove petroleum in Early Jurassic reservoir rocks in the Stø Formation, the well encountered the Stø Formation with a total thickness of around 66 meters, 63 meters of which was sandstone with very good reservoir quality. T

This well, drilled to a vertical depth of 821 meters below sea level and terminated in the Nordmela Formation in the Early Jurassic, is classified as dry with traces of hydrocarbons. The water depth at the site is 427 meters and the well will be permanently plugged and abandoned.

Additional Barents Sea acreage in 2024 oil & gas licensing round

After the Norwegian Ministry of Energy announced APA 2024 in May 2024, including blocks in the North Sea, the Norwegian Sea, and the Barents Sea, the last area has been expanded with 34 blocks, featuring good coverage thanks to recently released seismic data. The deadline for applications is September 3, 2024. The Norwegian Offshore Directorate previously pointed out that it would like to see companies actively explore more frontier areas to realize more of the resource potential.

The expanded area in the Barents Sea, located on the Finnmark Platform, covers an area of just under 9,000 square kilometers with a high data density of released 3D and 2D seismic data in the areas west of the Loppa High and around the North Cape Basin. The released data include several modern datasets processed or reprocessed in 2020/2021 and include available data in both time and depth along with angle/offset stacks.

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Torgeir Stordal, NOD’s Director General, recently highlighted: “First of all, I’d like to emphasise the broad range of activities on the NCS, which clearly shows that this shelf is developing. Petroleum continues to be the dominant industry, but we see a step-up in actvitity in potential new industries; both CO2 storage, offshore wind and deep sea minerals. We’re seeing high and stable oil and gas production , many projects are under construction at yards around the country, and exploration activity is high.”

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Moreover, the expanded area on the Finnmark Platform is said to encompass several exciting plays that can be mapped to further mature prospects, with the seismic line from the released 3D dataset FIN13 showing fault structures at basement level with potential structural and stratigraphic traps in the Billefjorden Group, as well as overlying spiculites in the Røye Formation.

Even though the Billefjorden Group and the Røye Formation are part of proven plays, the Norwegian Offshore Directorate does not consider them mature and well-explored. In APA 2023, Norway offered 62 production licenses to 24 oil and gas companies for further exploration activity on the NCS.

“From the authorities’ perspective, we want the industry to emphasise long-term value creation and to develop all profitable resources. We observe that work is being done to mature early-phase projects, so we expect to see several new development plans over the next few years,” added Stordal.

According to NOD’s Director General, maintaining high levels of exploration activity on the NCS is important, as there are still considerable resources in operating fields where new investments are needed. Such activities entail drilling several production wells to maintain high production levels.

Stordal emphasized: “A lot of positive things are happening on the shelf. We’re still producing a lot of the energy that Europe needs, with increasingly lower emissions. We have an industry that’s been successful in developing the shelf, and we’re now laying the groundwork for new industries to create value in the future.

“If we’re going to deliver on our primary objective, which is to create as much value for society as possible, it’s important to ensure that this development continues. If I’m concerned about anything, it’s that this won’t happen.”