Bringing together experts can pave the way for environmentally sound oil and gas supplyAs the ice is melting in the Arctic region, oil, gas and other natural resources, which have been hidden under thick layers of ice, are becoming easier to access. With technical skills, in depth knowledge of the region and the combined strengths of different specialists, there is a good possibility to benefit from the resources while safeguarding the Arctic nature, experts say.
By Kristine Barenholdt Bruun
The effects of global climate changes have already left their mark on the Arctic region, where parts of the ice is melting creating free passages to hitherto unknown oil and gas fields, which used to be hidden under frozen parts of the northern oceans. Climate change in the region has also rendered several of the already known oil fields more easily accessible.
The Arctic – hub for unexploited oil and gas reserves
American geologists estimate that 14 % of the world's unexploited oil reserves and 25% of gas reserves are located in the Arctic region, and the improved accessibility to the reserves is a great advantage in a world where resource scarcity poses a growing challenge. But if more crude oil is to be recovered in the Arctic region, environmental considerations are of compelling necessity since the Arctic region is one of the most sensitive regions in the world:
"International companies need expert advice about the harsh, Arctic environment, which has to remain as untouched as possible. When it comes to the oil and gas industry, Ramboll makes use of both local knowhow and global experience. This gives us unique possibilities. Aside from technical expertise, we are familiar with local, economic conditions and the rights of the local population. That is what makes us one of the leading consultants in the Arctic," says Nils Arne Johnsen, Ramboll's Market Director for the Arctic, who heads the Tromsø office in northern Norway.
Video: Mikkel Benthien Kristensen, Director of Environmental Assessment in Ramboll, gives his views on the environmental aspects of oil and gas projects..
Roots in the community along with global expertise is the recipe
Ramboll has been present in the Arctic region for more than 30 years, and with our anchoring in local offices in most northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland along with Greenland and Russia, the company has acted as consultant on technical, environmental, and socio-economic projects. Our portfolio counts consultancy services within house building, construction, pipeline design, authority management, environmental impact assessments, safety assessments, contingency planning – for instance in case of oil spill – and consultancy services within Winterization – an important area of expertise, which has at its core the objective to protect people and mechanical equipment operating in low temperatures:
"In order to know for instance what happens if ice floes collide with a platform, it is necessary to know the strength and movement pattern of the ice. How does the ice move, and how do materials act in extreme cold? In some areas there is a risk that icebergs will drift into the oil platforms," Kai Olsen, former Director at Ramboll, explains. Kai Olsen has worked on projects related to oil recovery in the Arctic for more than 25 years, and he continues:
"Depending on the area, the solution could be to construct platforms which can be detached and drift away. Another possibility is to build ships that function as an oil platform. There are many possible scenarios, but it is important to single out the right one for each area – and that is done through thorough and intelligent preliminary work."
Greenland - new exploration licences for natural resources
15 years ago the Greenlandic Directorate for Raw Materials had only issued few oil licenses and mining permissions. Today the Directorate has issued approximately 150 exploration licences for the recovery of raw materials and oil licences covering 200,000 km2. Greenland is in a situation where the exploration of natural resources can contribute to new prosperity in the country – but it is essential to safeguard the environment in the process:
"The circumstances in the Arctic require extra caution. Apart from the fact that the environment in the Arctic is more sensitive to influence, it is also much more difficult to clean up after a potential oil spill. For instance there is a risk that the oil will flow below the ice, and the decomposition processes may progress slowly because of low temperatures. At the same time it can be a logistical challenge because of the long distances to supply harbours," says Søren Knudsen, Head of Ramboll's environmental team in Stavanger specialized in oil and gas projects.
Oil-, gas-, and environmental technologies go together
Søren Knudsen explains that continued co-operation between environmental- and oil- and gas experts is vital:
"Before initiating any exploration drilling or potential oil production in the Arctic, we have to make sure that all contingency plans and environmental approvals are in place in order to make as little environmental impact as possible. Oil technology and environmental services always go hand in hand."
Jørn Skov Nielsen, Head of the Greenlandic Department of Business and Employment, agrees. In Ramboll's magazine 'Tomorrow – The race for resources,' he explains the importance of mapping environmental and societal consequences before oil exploration and mining activities can commence, as nature is an important part of life in Greenland. In addition he stresses the fact that societal issues must be taken into account when the country is opened up for foreign investment. From a political point of view the goal is to support a business development and employment model which is environmentally and socially viable. That could become imperative in reducing Greenland's current reliance on the fishing industry and Danish multibillion block grant," he says.
A climate that pushes technical boundaries
In order to stand a chance in the Arctic region where the degree of cold is extreme and the icebergs and waves are huge, it is imperative to know all the challenges that lie ahead. That is why knowledge about the area combined with the right preliminary studies is paramount to the success of a project.
Ramboll is right now involved in a number of projects in the Arctic region. One of them comprises the design of a subsea pipeline in Sakhalin in Eastern Russia; the first offshore field to deploy a subsea system for production of natural gas. Project Manager Søren Skovgaard Møller explains that the biggest challenges are the strong wind, extreme waves and large amounts of ice which make it difficult to work offshore most of the year. Because of those weather conditions, one of the most important aspects in this project is to act quickly and with precision.
Ramboll is also working on a record-breaking subsea pipeline, Polarled, which stretches across the Arctic Circle from the Aasta Hansteen field in the Norwegian Sea to the Nyhamna Gas Facility on the Norwegian coast. The pipeline will secure a stable supply of energy to Europe, and it will be laid through very uneven terrain. Ancient icebergs scouring the sea bed have created indentations in the sea bed giving the pipeline numerous, long, free spans along most of the route, which requires special measures to keep the pipeline in place.
Parts of the pipeline will be installed at water depths reaching 1265 metres, setting a world record for deep water installation of a 36" pipeline.
In the Polarled project, Ramboll assists Statoil with the preparation of Environmental Impact Assessments, assesses the tie-in operation which will involve remotely operated tie-in equipment, and Ramboll is also responsible for designing the Aasta Hansteen pipeline end-module and in-line tee assemblies. Furthermore, the scope involves geotechnical foundation design for subsea structures and crossing design for existing pipelines.
Ramboll influences the development in the Arctic
What makes Ramboll's consultancy in the Arctic particularly competent is that it emerges in close co-operation between local experts and experts from other countries, Kai Olsen explains. At the same time, the fact that Ramboll works across sectors so that for instance experts within oil/gas, environment and management work together, yields knowledge founded on solid ground, which in turn means better consultancy:
"It can save the client both time and money to sign up with one consultancy company having experts in many fields rather than attempting to make several specialised companies work together. In addition, it is Ramboll's value proposition to not only focus on safeguarding nature but also to take into consideration socio-economic aspects. In this way we can make sure that projects are carried out in a responsible way; environmentally, socio-economically and in terms of safety."
|Countering resource scarcity|
Sustainable innovation is required to solve the challenges we face due to the increasing scarcity of energy and resources. This particularly applies to the Arctic, where global climate change opens up access to new natural resources. Read more
|Arctic environmental solutions|
Responsible development of the offshore oil and gas industry in the Arctic requires specialised knowledge and know-how. Read more (PDF)
|Greenland: A land of opportunities|
Greenland is experiencing major changes due to increased political independence and climate change, which is leading to new opportunities within tourism, transport, agriculture, oil and natural resource extraction. Read more
|Brochure: Exploring hydrocarbon reserves north of Norway|
Managing Director, Oil & Gas
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