Maersk Drilling hopes to be able to extract oil from the Arctic all year round in the foreseeable future. The only problem with working all year is the massive floating ice, which can create problems for a drilling rig. This has led Maersk Drilling to experiment with ‘ice management,’ a process that involves breaking the ice into smaller pieces, keeping it from harming the drilling rigs when it floats past.
“We are investigating whether we can find a way to drill the Arctic regions all year round. We have, among other things, worked on ‘ice management’ together with DMI and others. The aim is to find methods that might not keep the water completely free of ice, around the drilling operation, but to break the ice enough to make it safe to operate, with the right equipment, so that it becomes possible to drill all year,” says Claus V. Hemmingsen, CEO of Maersk Drilling, to ShippingWatch.
The Arctic ice is formed in shallow waters by the shore, and then drifts out to sea. It is this movement of the ice from shore to the sea that Maersk Drilling is trying to control, to keep the ice from damaging the oil rigs.
“One can do this by breaking the ice into pieces with an icebreaker, making it small enough to simply float past the rig without damaging it,” says Claus V. Hemmingsen.
However, he stresses that Maersk Drilling’s work in the Arctic is still only at a research and test level, and that it will be some time before any real work in the region begins.
“We are performing a lot of tests and experiments, but it’s going to take at least four or five years before Maersk Drilling begins working the Arctic for real. It’s a project that we’ve presented to oil companies. It’s something that we’re talking about, and it’s a considerable investment, so we probably won’t start anything without one or more oil companies backing us from the beginning,” says Claus V. Hemmingsen.
The technology exists
Maersk Drilling believes that the right technologies for drilling the arctic exist right now. But they have to be combined correctly.
“The situation right now is that all the necessary technologies exist. The biggest challenge is in bringing them together, into an operation that will last all year round, under the extreme conditions of the Arctic,” says Claus V. Hemmingsen, who adds that combining the technologies still requires research and experimentation.
Still, he does not believe that research and experiments will be the deciding factors, when and if the decision to start drilling the Arctic is made.
“If we can’t find a way in which we are certain that we can handle the daily operation in a safe and sound manner, meeting the requirements, while also having the proper disaster preparations in place, we shouldn’t be doing it. That would be a deciding factor should we choose to go into the Arctic. There cannot be oil or chemical spills in the Arctic,” says Claus V. Hemmingsen.