* Plans 20-25 exploration wells next year
* To drill Norway's northernmost well
* Says has the technology to drill safely in Arctic
(Adds Greenpeace, Statoil quotes, detail)
By Gwladys Fouche
OSLO, Nov 7 Norwegian oil firm Statoil
will move deeper into the Arctic next year, planning to drill
closer to the edge of winter sea ice than before and drawing
fire from environmental groups who say it threatens a unique
State-controlled Statoil, which is already active in the
Arctic with licences from Alaska and Russia to Norway, said it
would drill two wells in the Hoop formation in the Barents Sea,
hoping to find more oil near a recent discovery by Austrian
energy firm OMV
It will also drill several more wells near its $15.5 billion
Johan Castberg find in the Barents, convinced there is more oil
there to make the project, with up to 600 million barrels,
viable after a tax change force it to suspend development.
"We can operate there with today's technology. And we have
40 years of experience of drilling in northern Norway," Daniel
Tuppen, its head of exploration for the Barents Sea said.
Oil companies are keen to drill in the Arctic because it
could hold up to 90 billion barrels of oil, according to the
U.S. Geological Survey. But firms scaled back exploration plans
after the grounding of a Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig
off Alaska last year caused a public uproar.
Greenpeace, which calls Statoil an "Arctic aggressor", said
this was the company's most dangerous foray yet, threatening the
nearby Bear Island, a wildlife sanctuary and occasionally home
to polar bears.
"This is too far north to have acceptable oil exploration in
the area," Truls Gulowsen, the head Of Greenpeace Norway said.
"We estimate that it could be just 14 days for an oil spill
there to reach the edge of the ice in wintertime.
Statoil already runs Europe's only liquefied natural gas
plant in the Barents as the relatively warm waters of the Gulf
Stream keep much of the sea ice free even as similar latitudes
in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska see heavy ice cover.
The planned wells are more than 300 km offshore, further
than typical projects in the North Sea and helicopter pilots,
who would ferry workers to platforms, will often required to fly
with night vision goggles as the area is covered in permanent
darkness for much of the year, Statoil said.
"We understand the concerns of the green groups. But we
spend a lot of time on that question. We feel very sure about
the safety of this well," Tuppen said.
OMV found up to 164 million barrels of oil south of the Hoop
area in September at its Wisting prospect, increasing
exploration appetite in the region as an increase in the
recoverable resource would reduce costs.
All in all, Statoil plans to participate in about 20-25
wells off the Norwegian coast next year, down from about 25-30
this year, with much of the decline coming from the end of an
aggressive appraisal campaign on the Johan Sverdrup field in the
"We have had a lot of appraisal wells drilled in the Johan
Sverdrup area this year. There are less appraisal wells to be
drilled next year. This is the main reason (for the fall)," said
Gro Haatvedt, the head of the firm's Norwegian exploration
Statoil expects to present a new resource estimate for
Sverdrup later this year and based on preliminary figures, the
North Sea field could hold up to 3.3 billion barrels of oil.
(Writing by Balazs Koranyi, editing by William Hardy)