Despite international sanctions and record-low oil prices, Russia pursues a rather offensive plan of further developing oil resources in its Arctic region. This is gambling with high stakes. However, Russian authorities as well as Rosneft and Gazprom both are confident that the investements will pay off eventually.

Arctic oil resources along the Russian northern coast are amongst the highest remaining worldwide. Despite low prices, Russia has boosted oil extraction in these areas. Credit: Sputnik
Arctic oil resources along the Russian northern coast are amongst the highest remaining worldwide. Despite low prices, Russia has boosted oil extraction in these areas. Credit: Sputnik

In April, state-controlled oil giant Rosneft started drilling the northernmost well on the Russian Arctic shelf in the Khatangsky license area in the Laptev Sea. In June, Rosneft struck first oil in the Eastern Arctic in this license. Earlier this month, the oil firm said that recoverable reserves at the field exceed 80 million tons of oil, which is equal to around 586.4 million barrels. Geological data point to reserves at the field at 298 million tons of oil, or some 2.184 billion barrels, and the oil is high quality—light and low-sulfur, according to Rosneft. The Russian oil giant—whose CEO Igor Sechin is a close ally of Vladimir Putin—continues to drill at the field to study its geology, search for more oil, and define future drilling strategies at the license, Rosneft says. Rosneft and Gazprom’s oil unit Gazprom Neft are the only two companies allowed to drill in the Arctic offshore under Russia’s legislation. Gazprom Neft operates the only oil-producing platform in Russia’s Arctic currently. The Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea started pumping oil back in late 2013. The field is estimated to hold 70 million tons of oil, or 513 million barrels, with annual production averaging 5.5 million tons (40.3 million barrels) at full capacity. Rosneft also plans to resume drilling in the Barents Sea next year and in the Kara Sea within two years, thus committing itself to conduct drilling works across the entire Russian section of the Arctic.

The Prirazlomnoye oil field is situated in the Pechora Sea, south of Novaya Zemlya. The platform there to extract the oil, was opened in 2013 and started Arctic oil exploration by Russia. Credit: Sputnik / Alexei Danichev
The Prirazlomnoye oil field is situated in the Pechora Sea, south of Novaya Zemlya. The platform there to extract the oil, was opened in 2013 and started Arctic oil exploration by Russia. Credit: Sputnik / Alexei Danichev

Rosneft holds 28 licenses in the Russian Arctic shelf that are estimated to have combined reserves of 34 billion tons of oil equivalent, or 249.22 billion barrels. Since 2012, Rosneft has invested $1.74 billion in Arctic exploration, and will invest in 2017-2021 another $4.354 billion. Russia, for its part, has stated that Arctic oil and Arctic development are priorities in its policies, and is supporting development with financing in a kind of political message that sanctions cannot deter its Arctic oil ambitions. The U.S. Treasury sanctions list from 2014 prohibits the exports of goods, services (not including financial services), or technology in support of exploration or production for Russian deepwater, Arctic offshore, or shale projects that have the potential to produce oil. While Western banks are still evaluating the potential impact of the latest round of U.S. sanctions on Russia from this summer, Moscow is committing funds to Artic development. At the end of August, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said that Russia would finance the development of the Artic continental shelf and the economy of the local areas with more than $2.787 billion by 2025. He said Russia’s program for Arctic development rests on three pillars: boosting economic growth, developing sea infrastructure, and developing the continental shelf with modern technology and equipment. As part of that program, in 2021-2025, the government will fund $414.5 million for a program to build oil and gas equipment and technology and industrial machinery for exploration and development in the Arctic. According to experts cited by Rosneft, the Arctic shelf is expected to account for 20-30 percent of Russia’s total oil production by 2050. It’s not clear who will need Russian Arctic oil in 2050, but in the shorter term, Russia is betting on the Arctic, and Rosneft’s exploration success this year could really pay off.  

To deliver the oil to the main land, Russia had built new tanker ships like the Shturman Albanov, a 42’000 ton, ice-breaking tanker specifically designed to operate in Arctic conditions. Credit: Sovcomflot
To deliver the oil to the main land, Russia had built new tanker ships like the Shturman Albanov, a 42’000 ton, ice-breaking tanker specifically designed to operate in Arctic conditions. Credit: Sovcomflot

Source: Tsevtana Paraskova, Oilprice.com