Probing the secrets of the northern deeps
11/11/2007 Learning more about the geology of the far north could help to solve the big question being asked in both Norway and Russia - how much oil and gas might lie beneath the vast Arctic seas.
text: Hans-Ivar Sjulstad
A Russo-Norwegian project on the geological development of petroleum provinces in the Barents and Kara Seas and in the Pechora Basin could help to provide some of the answers.
This collaboration brings together the A P Karpinsky Geological Research Institute (VSEGEI) in St Petersburg, the Norwegian Geological Survey (NGU), Statoil and the NPD.
It is backed by the Research Council of Norway through its Petromaks programme as well as by the Russian and Norwegian governments.
The aim is to reconstruct, establish and collate the geological histories of these sea areas through the interpretation of information from a variety of sources.
These include seismic, gravimetric and magnetic surveys, wells and studies of exposed geological formations on islands and in surrounding mainland locations.
Russia's Timan-Pechora Basin is one of the world's richest petroleum provinces, and the Barents and Kara Seas are also thought to contain substantial undiscovered resources.
Due to run until 2008, the project is split into two phases - with geophysical issues and the structural/tectonostratigraphic framework in the Barents and Kara Seas as the first stage.
This phase involves producing new charts which show the depth of important structures from a petroleum geology perspective, the basement rock and the crust-mantle boundary.
Selected cross-sections through the geological layers are also due to be established in both Norwegian and Russian sectors of the Barents Sea.
These will show how the petroleum geology formations look from the side, their faulting, variations in their thickness and where they lie in relation to the basement rock.
The second phase of the project is intended to produce palaeographic maps at 22 different points in the geological sequence of the region.
This involves reconstructing the ancient landscape, so that pictures can be formed of how it looked at various times in the past.
The maps will also show how geological processes generated various types of sediments and how they influence the distribution of these deposits across the area.
Studying these pictures or maps will make it possible to identify the location of rocks important for the formation and accumulation of hydrocarbons.
This collaboration is particularly interesting and challenging because Russia and Norway have different traditions of and priorities in scientific method.
Russian geologists often base their studies on actual observations, and accordingly tend to produce maps which show which rocks and mineral resources are specifically present.
Their Norwegian counterparts, on the other hand, are more interested in developing geological models which give greater weight to showing sedimentary processes and the environment in which rocks were laid down.
One of the challenges in the projects will accordingly be to collate the maps and other products into a common result which satisfies professional standards in both countries.