BARCUT

Barents Sea drill cuttings research initiative (BARCUT)

Background and overall aim

The Barents Sea is as a sensitive environment with large potential for bio-resources. The Norwegian authorities therefore apply a “zero harmful discharge” policy on petroleum activities in the Barents Sea. However, during the onset of exploration of the Barents Sea, the regulations for marine discharge of drill cuttings was less strict, which resulted in the discharge of several types of drill cuttings and drilling fluids, and their associated contaminants, into the Barents Sea.

Drill cuttings can have a negative effect on the marine environment. Handling of drill cuttings in the Barents Sea is therefore still a topic of debate. Two scenarios include: a) marine discharge or b) disposal on land. Valid considerations for both options are environmental concerns, health and safety issues and socio-economic cost-benefit assessments. Storage of drill cuttings on land can result in leaking of contaminants into the natural environment. Release of drill cuttings at the seafloor includes other environmental issues that remain poorly understood.

Drill cutting 4300 times enlarged

Drill cutting 4300 times enlarged (Photo: Tom Eilertsen UiT)

The BARCUT (Barents Sea Drill Cuttings Research Initiative) project (July 2013 – June 2018) aims to identify the long-term environmental impact of drill cuttings released to the marine environment and to address relevant societal concerns.

BARCUT is a research and monitoring program for petroleum related activity in the Barents Sea.  The project is carried out by Akvaplan-niva, Norut Tromsø and UiT The Arctic University of Norway in Tromsø (UiT).  Eni Norway AS, fully finances the program.

The project consists of five different work packages (WP) and has a multidisciplinary approach combining the fields of geology, ecology, biology, oceanography, chemistry and social sciences.

Within the project, high quality seafloor sediment samples were collected with a ROV, along transects away from wells drilled between 1987 and 2015 (Fig. 1). These sediment samples are studied in a multidisciplinary way (see description for the relevant WPs). Additionally visual studies are done around the wells to see sea floor impact of drill cuttings.

The project will provide knowledge on the long-term environmental impacts of previous- and present sub-marine placement of drill cuttings, contributing to minimization of the environmental footprint of upcoming operations in the High North. The project will contribute to knowledge- based decision making on handling of drill cuttings in the Barents Sea.


Project description

WP1 Project management

  • Coordinated by the EWMA secretariat
  • Resources: Stian Røberg

WP2 Applied sea floor research

  • Coordinated by Akvaplan niva and UiT
  • Main objective:  Impact of discharges on sediment conditions and microbiota and macro fauna
  • Resources: Bjarne Landfald (UiT) and Sabine Cochrane (Akvaplan niva)

WP3 Spreading and deposition of drill cuttings

  • Coordinated by UiT
  • Main objective: Site specific spreading of drill cuttings on the sea floor and their influence on marine environment
  • Resources: Juho Junttila, Noortje Dijkstra and Steffen Aagaard Sørensen (UiT)

 

  • Task I:  Sediment condition
  • Sediment cores along a transect up to 250m away from the well (Fig. 2) are studied to:
    • investigate the sediment conditions of the sea floor before the drill cutting discharge (baseline)
    • investigate the influence of drill cuttings on sedimentary environment after the discharge (impact and spreading)
    • investigate and predict future environmental conditions of the sediments (recovery)

 

  • Task II: Foraminiferal response
  • Studying living (sediment core surface) and fossilized (deeper in the sediment cores) microorganisms (benthic foraminifera) to allow reconstruction and/or monitoring of:
    • environmental baselines in already impacted areas
    • present and past environmental impact of drill cutting releases
    • environmental recovery after cessation of drilling wells

 

WP4 Economic and social aspects

  • Coordinated by UiT and Norut samfunnsforskning
  •  Resources: Peter Arbo and Maaike Knol (UiT). Heidi Nilsen and Arild Buanes (Norut)
    • Task 1: The science-policy interface of waste management (UiT)
    • Task 2: Comparison with the science-policy interface of waste management in mining industry (Norut)
    • Task 3: Cost-benefit analysis (Norut)

 

WP5 Application of results and outreach

  • Coordinated by the EWMA secretariat
  • Resources: Stian Røberg

Fig. 1 a) Bathymetric map of the SW Barents Sea indicating the main topographic areas and hydrocarbon fields. Wells were sediment cores were taken along transects (Fig. 2) for environmental studies in the BARCUT project are indicated by red triangles. Blue colors indicated deeper water depths (300-400 m), yellow-red colors indicate shallower water depths (100-200 m).

Fig. 1 a) Bathymetric map of the SW Barents Sea indicating the main topographic areas and hydrocarbon fields. Wells were sediment cores were taken along transects (Fig. 2) for environmental studies in the BARCUT project are indicated by red triangles. Blue colors indicated deeper water depths (300-400 m), yellow-red colors indicate shallower water depths (100-200 m).

 

Fig. 1 b) Detailed bathymetric map of the Ingøydjupet-Tromsøflaket regions the wells were sediment cores were taken along transects (Fig. 2) for environmental studies in the BARCUT project.

Fig. 1 b) Detailed bathymetric map of the Ingøydjupet-Tromsøflaket regions the wells were sediment cores were taken along transects (Fig. 2) for environmental studies in the BARCUT project.

 

Fig. 2. (left) Schematic overview of how sediment samples were taken along a transect away from a well. (right) Schematic overview of how sediment cores provided a timeline into the past, providing information on environmental baselines, impact and recovery.

Fig. 2. (left) Schematic overview of how sediment samples were taken along a transect away from a well. (right) Schematic overview of how sediment cores provided a timeline into the past, providing information on environmental baselines, impact and recovery.

 

core capture

Core capture with ROV       (photo: Oceaneering 2015)

 

BARCUT is fully financed by Eni Norge and was initiated 1 of July 2013.

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