A sideways view: Norway’s state energy giant, Statoil, led the way with its announcement that it would treble its Arctic research and development budget and drill nine wells in the Barents Sea next year.
And by Wednesday morning, it was evident that the language had shifted from whether increased Arctic exploration should happen to how to mitigate the effects when it does.
Ryan Lance, chief executive of Conoco Phillips said the push north has been happening in iterations for decades — from land-based exploration to non-ice offshore exploration, and would eventually evolve to drilling through ice.
It was he said, no different in principle from exploration anywhere else. “It is about being prepared with oil spill response equipment and training. There will be some unique challenges. It is dark and cold. But front end design is the key. And we have to continue to do that right.”“What do you do if you were to have an incident and oil gets under broken ice?” These were the questions which needed to be asked because this kind of drilling “is coming,” he added.
90 years of Arctic experience
Kathy Pepper, VP of Exxon Mobil’s Middle East and Russia division recast Arctic operations from pioneering exploration in new frontiers to a continuation of a process which has been around for nearly a century.
“People think it’s is a brand new frontier. But we have over 90 years of Arctic experience,” she said — adding the region was going to be a crucial component of feeding the ballooning energy needs of a planet even more thirsty for fossil fuels.“We estimate that by 2040, the world will need 30% more energy than it did in 2010. The Arctic is a critical component.”
An unavoidable case
The growing international energy requirement along with an oil price which Mr Lance predicted would remain above $60 bpd for the foreseeable future, created an unavoidable case for more Arctic exploitation.
“We need to work with the Arctic council to convince all the governments that demand is growing and growing substantially. And we have to concentrate now on lowering the cost of supply in these remote areas,” he said.
It is a delicate time for discussing Arctic drilling with NASA pictures emerging this week, showing that the ice has never been thinner.
The irony of past fossil fuel production contributing to the melting ice and hence the possibility of more exploration was not lost on Dr Henrik O Madsen, the boss of industrial safety organisation, DNV.But his narrative on the second afternoon of ONS was still of mitigating risk and ensuring the drilling does not destroy fishing resources, habitats and communities.
“The Arctic has the highest level of sensitivity but the lowest ability to mitigate an accident,” he said.
More Sideways views from Mark Lewis: