* Norway undiscovered oil, gas could be 17.6 bln barrels
* Estimates include formerly disputed areas bordering Russia
* Greens question future exploration in ice-covered waters
(Adds quotes, details)
By Nerijus Adomaitis and Alister Doyle
OSLO, April 25 Norway's portion of the Barents
Sea could contain twice as much undiscovered oil and gas as
previously thought when a newly mapped area bordering Russia is
included, raising the prospect of drilling in environmentally
sensitive ice-covered waters.
Norwegian governments have often said they will only drill
in ice-free areas in the Arctic, both because companies lack
technology to clean up oil spills onto ice and because icebergs
can damage drilling installations.
The Norwegian Barents Sea could hold 2.8 billion standard
cubic meters (scm) oil equivalent (17.6 billion barrels),
including 1.4 billion smc to the southeast of the Svalbard
archipelago, the country's oil regulator said on Tuesday.
While the area to the east of Svalbard evaluated by the
Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) is covered by ice for much
of the year, according to satellite data, the extent of sea ice
is retreating northwards because of global warming.
Norway's oil lobby welcomed the prospect of potential
activity in the future, although the newly assessed areas will
require parliamentary approval for drilling there, something
which has long been questioned by environmentalists.
They doubt whether drilling in environmentally sensitive
northern areas, which include important fish stocks, should ever
be allowed or be profitable due to high Arctic exploration
"This would be like burning money," Nils Harley Boisen of
conservation group WWF said.
No decision would be made until after parliamentary
elections in September, but discussions could start during the
next parliament's four-year term, Norway's Oil Minister Terje
Soeviknes told Reuters.
"The question is how far north you should go and what
challenges you get in this part of the shelf," he said.
Greenpeace said the NPD's decision to publish estimates for
the areas further to the north undermined a long-standing
political agreement not to drill in ice-covered waters and put
pressure on Oslo to open the area to oil companies.
"This is a clear pressure from the oil industry to open new
exploration areas to keep employment, ignoring concerns about
environment and profitability," Truls Gulowsen, head of
Greenpeace Norway, told Reuters.
The Norwegian Oil and Gas association, an industry lobby,
however, said the new estimates increased confidence about
future activity in the Arctic, which could benefit local
communities and add jobs.
While exploration has taken place in some parts of the
Barents Sea for more than 30 years, only the Goliat oilfield and
the Snoehvit natural gas field have so far begun production.
The NPD said separately it expected a record number of
exploration wells to be drilled in the Barents Sea this
(Additional reporting by Joachim Dagenborg; editing by Terje
Solsvik and Alexander Smith)