OSLO, Norway, April 6 (UPI) -- Statoil's huge oil find in the Barents Sea puts the arctic on the map in the hunt for fossil fuels.
The Norwegian state-owned company last week announced the most significant oil discovery off Norway in the past decade at its Skrugard prospect in the western Barents Sea.
Around 108 nautical miles off the Norwegian coast, the field may hold between 250 million barrels and 500 million barrels of recoverable oil, the company said in a statement.
Statoil, which said it hopes to produce oil from Skrugard in 5-10 years, has a 50 percent share in the license. The remainder is held by Italy's Eni (30 percent) and Norway's state-owned oil concession company Petoro (20 percent).
"The Skrugard find is significant and a breakthrough for frontier exploration in the Barents Sea," Tim Dodson, executive vice president for exploration at Statoil, said in a statement. "This opens a new oil province that can provide additional resource growth."
Statoil has drilled more than 60 wells in the Barents Sea, often with little success.
"The Barents Sea is large and we cannot say that we have cracked the code for the entire area yet," Dodson said. "But we have confirmed that our exploration model is correct. This is a breakthrough and an important step in understanding how the geology -- and thus the hydrocarbon systems in the Barents Sea -- works."
The find is good news for Norway, which has seen oil output decline in recent years. It's also expected to increase the exploration activities in the arctic.
Climate change is causing arctic ice sheets to melt, with the oceans in the region possibly ice-free during the summer months. This is opening a new Atlantic-Pacific shipping channel and makes the vast natural resources lying under the seabed more accessible.
Drilling in the icy arctic waters isn't without controversy.
Russia and Norway have for the past four decades disagreed over boundaries in the Barents Sea, which is believed to hold vast amounts of oil, gas and precious metals.
Apart from the Russian-Norwegian conflict, the United States and Canada are rowing over a swath of the Beaufort Sea and over the Northwest Passage, which in 2007 for the first time in modern history was free of ice.
Meanwhile, environmental groups are worried that the arctic, one of the world's most pristine natural ecosystems, may be destroyed by reckless industrial activity. Experts say drilling in the arctic is too risky.
Production at Statoil's Snoehvit and Eni's Goliat prospect, two other fields in the Barents Sea, have been delayed because of the harsh conditions in the arctic.