The Soviet Union started actively developing its Arctic shelf in the early 1980s. The most promising areas of the Arctic shelf were in the Pechora and Kara seas, which are aquatic extensions of the Timan-Pechora and Western Siberian oil and gas provinces. In the period following the collapse of the Soviet Union, from 1991 to 1998, Russia's drilling fleet operated almost exclusively on the shelf of Western Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.
The termination of geological exploration work in the Arctic after 1991, coupled with the loss of the Arctic drilling fleet, mean that the Russian Arctic shelf remains largely unexplored: only 20 per cent of the Barents Sea and 15 per cent of the Kara Sea have been explored, while the East Siberian, Laptev and Chukchi seas have not been explored at all.
A total of 25 deposits have been discovered on the Russian continental shelf, all of which are located in the Barents and Kara seas (including the Gulf of Ob and the Taz Estuary). Recoverable commercial reserves in the deposits amount to over 430 million tonnes of oil and 8.5 trillion cubic metres of natural gas.
The first and thus far only oil and gas project to be carried out on the Russian Arctic shelf is the development of the Prirazlomnoye field, which was discovered in the Pechora Sea in 1989. The field has estimated reserves of 72 million tonnes of oil. Gazprom Neft Shelf holds the license for its development. In August 2011, the Prirazlomnaya offshore ice-resistant stationary platform was delivered to the oil field. It has a design capacity of 6.5 million tonnes per year. Industrial development of the field commenced in December 2013. In 2014, the platform delivered around 2.2 million barrels of oil to the Port of Rotterdam. The oil produced at the deposit is called ARCO (Arctic Oil). The company plans to double its production and shipment of oil in 2015.
Gazprom continues preparations for rolling out another project in the Pechora Sea, namely, the Dolginskoye oil field. Four exploratory wells have already been drilled. Recoverable reserves are estimated
to be in excess of 200 million tonnes of oil equivalent (1.7 billion barrels). Gazprom wants to attract Vietnamese company PetroVietnam to the project. Production is expected to start in 2020, with peak levels of 4.8 million tonnes of oil per year to be achieved by 2026.
As relevant as ever is the Shtokman field, which was discovered in 1988. It boasts reserves of 3.9 trillion cubic metres of gas and 56.1 million tonnes of gas condensate.
In total, Gazprom owns seven licensed areas in the Barents Sea, three in the Pechora Sea, thirteen in the Kara Sea, eight in the Gulf of Ob and one in the East Siberian Sea.
The other Russian company, Rosneft, owns six licensed areas in the Barents Sea, eight in the Pechora Sea, four in the Kara Sea, four in the Laptev Sea, one in the East Siberian Sea and three in the Chukchi Sea. In order to fulfil its existing license obligations, Rosneft signed strategic cooperation agreements in 2011 and 2012 with Exxon Mobil, Statoil and Eni that envisage, among other things, joint geological exploration and development of hydrocarbon deposits in the Arctic shelf.
In August 2014, exploratory drilling work carried out by the Rosneft–Exxon Mobile joint venture Karmorneftegaz in the East-Prinovozemelsky field 1 licensed area in the Kara Sea resulted in the discovery of an oil field
with recoverable reserves of 130 million tonnes of oil and 500 billion cubic metres of natural gas. In order to fulfil its existing license obligations, Rosneft signed a long-term agreement
in 2014 with the Norwegian company North Atlantic Drilling for the use of six offshore drilling rigs in its shelf projects, including its Arctic shelf projects, until 2022. To increase access to its drilling fleet, Rosneft also signed a framework agreement in 2014 with Seadrill Limited and North Atlantic Drilling Limited on the exchange of assets and investments.
The political tensions brought about by the situation in Ukraine led to a number of governments, including those of the United States, the European Union and Norway, imposing sanctions against Russia in various sectors of the economy during the second half of 2014.
These sanctions have already led to a number of foreign oil companies, including Exxon Mobile, suspending their participation in Russian Arctic shelf projects. The level of dependence on "Western" equipment and services to carry out projects on the Arctic shelf is particularly high.
Shifting international tensions to the Arctic, and refusing to lift the sanctions, may force the Russian Federation to look at attracting other states to cooperate in the region, primarily those from Asia.If this happens, it could change the face of international cooperation in the Arctic and significantly reduce the number of orders placed with western manufacturers of equipment for the development of the Arctic shelf.
Read more: To Explore and Develop. Developing Offshore Oil and Gas Resources in the Russian Arctic Shelf: Now and Tomorrow