A small piece of history: The search for oil and gas in Norway started earlier, and a very different place than most people think. The first well in the North Sea was completed in the summer of 1966, and the first discovery, Ekofisk, was made in 1969. Already in the late 50’s, the brothers Einar and Gunnar Pedersen from Trondheim became interested in the possibility of discovering oil and gas – on Svalbard.
The brothers went to Svalbard in the late 50’s primarily to build an international airport. The plans they had for a large airport on Brøggerhalvøya was stopped just before the construction work was about to start, by the Norwegian government and protests from the Soviet Union. The brothers did not give up Svalbard and their attention was drawn to the geology that they had made themselves familiar with over many years and long expeditions on Svalbard. They meant that possibilities of discovering oil and gas were present.
In 1960 the brothers’ company secured its first acres (approximately 30 square kilometers) at Kvadehuksletta with permission for exploration, drilling and production of oil and gas. Exploration drilling began in the next summer. The company bought a so-called “cable tool rig” in Sweden. The rig was until then used to drilling for water. The rig and a barrack were transported northward and installed on Kvadehuksletta. The rig could drill about 800 meters, with drill bits of 8 and 6 inches.
The “oilhunters” Ytreland
The Pedersen brothers were refused admission to Svalbard for three years from 1962. They then hired Ivar Ytreland as their new expedition leader. Sven brought his wife Gerd, and brother Svein, and these three were to carry out many a drilling operation on Svalbard in the years to come.
Ivar Ytreland says they early on were aware of the dangers in connection with drilling after oil and gas, and the risk of severe blowouts. The Norwegain Labour Inspection Authority and mine superintendants were on the other hand then modest in their demands for safety installation. However in 1963 they demanded that a safety valve had to be installed on top of the wellhead. The valve that was used for this first model, a 6-inch gate valve, was bought at a second-hand shop in Trondheim for 15 NOK (about 2.8 USD).
This was only a temporary solution, soon requirements for a multistage blowout valve, a so called BOP (Blow-out Preventer) were put out. This would cost the small company a “small fortune”. Svein Ytreland took on the job, and constructed in collaboration with several local helpers a great three-valve BOP to fit the new rotary drill rig which was now used on Svalbard. This is why Norway’s first BOP for use in the oil industry was made in Trondheim.
The BOP made it possible to close off the drill hole at a distance if the pressure in the well became too high.
The valve was approved for a pressure of 345 bar (5,000 psi). In comparison, one of today’s most advanced drilling rigs, Aker Barents – the BOP is approved for a pressure of 1035 bar (15,000 psi). In a normal car tire the pressure is around two bars.
Det norske has in cooperation with the Ytreland family now got Norways first BOP back to Trondheim. We have borrowed it from Svalbard museum for a contribution to the museum to get the rig itself restored. The BOP has been trough a thorough restoration and brought back to Trondheim. It now stands on display in the reception of Det norske oljeselskap, see picture below.
This article is written in cooperation with Ivar Ytreland, who now live in Drøbak with his wife Gerd. Read more about their history as “oilhunters” in this article from GEO365, http://www.geo365.no/nytt_om_navn/polarentusiast/ (in Norwegian only).
About Det norske:
Det norske is the second-largest operating company on the Norwegian Continental Shelf both considering number of operatorships, exploration- and drilling activity. The aggressive exploration program is the largest an independent Norwegian company has ever conducted on the NCS. Det norske runs its activities in a safe and responsible manner in close cooperation with the authorities. Det norske will in 2011 participate in over 10 drilling operations as partner or as operator.
Det norske currently employs a staff of around 200. The company`s registered office is located in Trondheim. The company also has offices in Oslo, Harstad, and Stavanger. Det norske is listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange (DETNOR).