Icebergs are just the tip of the… well… Ice Berg.

As mentioned in the last post, Oil Pipes are what (link found here), Norway and Russia are working on something big; no, not anything bad – for now. Located in the Arctic North is approximately 22% of the world’s undiscovered, technically recoverable oil and gas resources (INTSOK – Norwegian Oil and Gas Partners, 2014). Big Oil = Big Money. 1/5 of the world’s oil is trapped in north. That’s a lot. The biggest problem for these countries is how harsh the area is. Extremely cold temperatures, sea ice, darkness, remoteness and may other problems pose a particular issue when trying to extract these resources. There are two major problems that need to be overcome; icebergs and diapirs.

Before we get into the issues, let’s give a little more background on the particular area of interest for these countries, the Barents Sea. Located waaaaaay up north, further north than the Arctic Circle, is the Barents Sea. Shown in the image below, this sea is surrounded by mainland Norway and Russia with a few of their territorial islands in the upper part.  

Figure 1 – Map of the Barents Sea

The Barents Sea is extremely variable and is home to a rugged bottom topography due to ice berg scouring the area (INTSOK – Norwegian Oil and Gas Partners, 2014). On average, the shelf depth is about 250 m, reaching maximum depths of around 400–500 m (INTSOK – Norwegian Oil and Gas Partners, 2014). Closer to the shore, the water depth is shallow, ranging from 20-60 m in depth. This makes the area much more enticing to survey, extract and produce oil, as it requires A LOT less energy and material. The figure below illustrates the depth of the Barents Sea.

Figure 2 – Depth map for the Barents Sea (INTSOK – Norwegian Oil and Gas Partners, 2014)

            Now on to the first major issue, icebergs. Icebergs can destroy pipelines and make it extremely difficult to repair them. The ice berg will scrape and push soil into and around the pipeline. To fix this, engineering’s need to dig deep enough to avoid this issue. An example of how to achieve this is shown in the diagram below.

Figure 3 – Diagram of the effect of Ice Keel on the sea floor (Gerwick, 2007)

There is one problem with digging into the soil though, is that problem is diapirs. Diapirs are ‘underwater bombs’ waiting to explode. These overpressure zones, also known as diapirs, are made up of frozen ice grounds and related gas accumulations with abnormally high formation pressure (INTSOK – Norwegian Oil and Gas Partners, 2014). These diapirs form due to the permafrost that is located in the area. Data on the shelf of the Barents Sea suggests that there are subsurface overpressure zones with accumulations of gas and gas hydrates or known as diapirs (INTSOK – Norwegian Oil and Gas Partners, 2014). A diagram is shown below.

Figure 4 – Illustration of a diapir rising up through the sediments (INTSOK – Norwegian Oil and Gas Partners, 2014)

As said before, diapirs are small bombs just waiting to explode. This is a major engineering risk for the exploitation of oil and gas deposits. While digging, these diapir could explode and damage any surveying equipment or extraction tools. Ultimately, it could be the same results as Deep-Water Horizon from the earlier post… Boom.

            So, the morel of this week’s post – preparation. The engineers and surveyors need to do a lot of preparation in order to best prepare for the disasters that could occur. Next week we are going to investigate the pipeline installation processes and how-to best design, prepare and create pipelines that can best with stand the Arctic North.

Bibliography

Gerwick, B. C. (2007). Construction of marine and offshore structures. New York: CRC Press.

INTSOK – Norwegian Oil and Gas Partners. (2014). Russian – Norwegian Oil & Gas industry cooperation in the High North. Skoyen: INTSOK.

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