MOSCOW, May 3 (UPI) -- Russian energy company Gazprom has the right to try to access the estimated 63.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the arctic, the prime minister said.
Russian Prime Minster Dmitry Medvedev issued a decree Friday that gives Gazprom the right to explore four natural gas fields in the Barents Sea. The four fields combined may hold more natural gas than the 2.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas produced by Gazprom last year, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency reports.
Medvedev's decree means that Gazprom has to pay about $290 million for exploration rights through 2018.
Gazprom and Russian oil company Rosneft are the only companies authorized to work in the Russian arctic, though neither company has started a formal exploration campaign.
Gazprom last week sent applications to the government for 20 licenses for blocks in the Barents, Kara, East Siberian and Chukchi seas. Melting arctic sea ice is exposing areas believed to hold deposits of oil and natural gas.
Gazprom this year produced its first volumes of oil from the Prirazlomnoye oil field in the Pechora Sea using a stationary platform designed specifically for operations in arctic conditions.
Greenpeace campaigners last year occupied the Prirazlomnoye oil rig, saying it was trying to stop "the destruction of the planet."