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Distance

The far north on the NCS is characterised by big distances and little infrastructure. These conditions mean that rescue and evacuation capacity is currently limited.


Map of the Barents sea

Exploration has been under way in Norway’s Barents Sea sector since the early 1980s, but no fixed surface facilities have yet been installed there.

That will change when the Goliat field comes on stream. The only other development in this region, Snøhvit, is entirely subsea.

Eni and Statoil, as the respective operators of these fields, have stationed an all-weather search and rescue (Awsar) helicopter at Hammerfest to meet requirements for rescue and evacuation.

A Sea King machine based at Banak airport on the Porsanger Fjord for 330 Squadron, Norway’s government rescue service, also covers the relevant area.

Range
The operational range of these aircraft is 340 kilometres from land. But the northernmost location studied for petroleum activities is more than 450 kilometres out.

Sufficient fuel for the return flight determines how far the helicopters can fly if they are unable to land at their destination.

Refuelling
Continuing a flight beyond the operational range calls for intermediate refuelling. That will be the case if the northernmost parts of the Barents Sea are to be served.

A number of analyses and studies have identified various possibilities for extending the distance which can be flown.

  • —Land on a possible production facility. Statoil’s planned Johan Castberg development would be well placed strategically for accessing large parts of the Barents Sea, except for the southernmost area.
     
  • Land on a dedicated facility installed as a refuelling station for evacuation and emergency response, which could serve a number of fields.
     
  • Refuelling in flight. The military do this from a ship while the helicopter remains in the air, and civilian methods can be developed.
     
  • Land at a possible helicopter base on Bear Island. This option faces challenges from frequent summer fogs. Bear Island is also a long way from the mainland – almost twice as far as Johan Castberg. Extra fuel tanks or long-range helicopters would be required.

Medical help
Barents Sea distances pose a challenge for medical evacuation. Today’s requirement in the industry’s own guidelines is that a patient must be got to a hospital on land within three hours.

Suggested alternatives include increased medical provision on offshore facilities or the use of telemedicine. A special centre for the latter has been established at Tromsø University Hospital.

The PSA has so far reached no decision on these options.

Communication
Satellite coverage is lacking north of the 74th parallel because of the Earth’s curvature. That means necessary broadband links or real-time communication are lacking.

The effect which puts satellites out of each occurs already at 70°N. This issue is most acute for drilling rigs, since fixed installations can utilise permanent fibreoptic cabling.

Electromagnetic storms are another challenge for communication equipment in the high north. Distortion or loss of signals will reduce opportunities to use GPS for navigation or for locating personnel evacuated to the sea.

Electrical storms in the ionosphere could also cause magnetic disturbances to compasses. This problem increases the further north one goes.

Back to Facts: The far north