Unitization of Petroleum Fields in the Barents Sea: Towards a Common Understanding?
The expected discovery of petroleum fields that cross the new boundary between Russia and Norway in the Barents Sea could mean that both parties will lay claim to the same subsoil resources. The Treaty on Maritime Delimitation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean (Barents Treaty) prescribes that such fields should be developed as one unit, governed by a unitization agreement between the two governments and a joint operating agreement between license holders on the respective sides of the border. Norway has more than 40 years’ experience from the unitization of cross-border fields in the North Sea with the United Kingdom. Russia's experience with cross-boundary petroleum field development is limited to Kazakhstan in the Caspian Sea and onshore, where bilateral resource management has been governed by other principles and institutions. While the Barents Treaty text clearly reflects the Norwegian way of managing offshore fields, it does not preclude the Russian way of doing so. We find reason to believe that both parties will enter negotiations over a cross-boundary field in the Barents Sea believing their understanding reflects the true concept of unitization. Despite objective differences between Norwegian and Russian legislation and practice, there is evidence that the two nations have more in common than not in their underlying principles. Discussions are likely to arise regarding the practicalities of implementing field unitization, and arriving at a common understanding will probably require some time.