Two Chinese rigs prepare for drilling in Russian Arctic waters

A file photo shows the “Kolskaya” oil drilling rig in the Kola Bay near Russia’s northern seaport of Murmansk. (Andrei Pronin/Reuters)
One of the world’s biggest heavy loads vessel on 17th June sailed into the Kola Bay with two rigs on board. A week later, the “Xin Guang Hua” left the Russian Arctic city, and by the 29th June it was located off the coast of Norway’s Lofoten islands with course or the Netherlands, ship traffic data show.

It has become a familiar sight for locals in Murmansk that Chinese drilling vessels arrive in town as soon as the sea-ice melts and vanishes in Russian Arctic waters. In 2017, it was drilling rig “Nan Hai Ba Hao”, also referred to as the “Nanhai-VIII”, that arrived in town before it set course for the Kara Sea. Since then, the rig has been in the Russian far northern waters every summer

This year, for the first time, two Chinese rigs were put on the water in the Kola Bay. It is believed that the “Nan Hai Ba Hao” is one of them. According to news agency EA Daily, the name of the second is “Nan Hai Jiu Hao”.

Both rigs are owned and operated by the China Oilfield Services (COSL). They are believed to drill in one or several of the Arctic licenses areas of Gazprom.

A Chinese delegation visited the Murmansk region in 2017. (Murmansk Regional Government)

Since it first time arrived in the Kara Sea, the “Nan Hai Ba Hao” has drilled at the Leningradskoye and Skuratovskoye, two areas located off the western coast of the Yamal Peninsula.

Chinese and Russian rigs to operate in the area

According to information from the Northern Sea Route Administration (NSRA), the Russian office that manages shipping in the region, the rigs are allowed into the southwestern part of the Kara Sea in the period between 1st July and 15th November. A precondition is that the waters in the drill area are ice-free, the permission issued to the Chinese company reads.

Judging from information from the NSRA, as well as Marine Traffic, the Norwegian vessel “Magne Viking” might be among the ones now towing the Chinese rigs towards the Kara Sea. Also the “Normand Supra”, a Norwegian offshore supply ship, is now in Murmansk, information from the ship tracker service shows.

In 2019, a fleet of several Norwegian offshore supply ships accompanied the rigs in the Kara Sea.

The two Chinese rigs will not be only two drilling installations that this year explores hydrocarbons in the Kara Sea. Also the Russian rig “Arkticheskaya” is likely to operate in the area. In addition, the “Amazon” is believed to towed into the shallow waters of the Ob Bay where it will follow up drilling from 2018 and 2019.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: What Russia’s $300B investment in Arctic oil and gas means for Canada, CBC News

Finland: Finland investigates oil leak risks from Baltic Sea shipwrecks, Yle News

Greenland: Greenland joins push to ban heavy fuel oil in the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Iceland to restrict heavy fuel oil use in territorial waters, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norway proposes to open 125 new oil exploration blocks in the Barents Sea, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Arctic oil plans in Norway and Russia disrupted amid COVID-19 crisis. The Independent Barents Observer

United Kingdom: Exemptions to possible Arctic HFO ban denounced by Indigenous orgs, environmental groups, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Wells Fargo becomes third major US bank to nix Arctic oil investment, Alaska Public Media

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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