Sunday, December 6, 2009

Jan Mayen: The Gates of Hell

Jan Mayen Island (71°N 8°30'W) is a remote Norwegian property in the Arctic Ocean, home to only a dozen or so scientists who are there to maintain a meterological station and a LORAN-C Station.

Norway, seeking to explore for oil and natural gas in its more remote properties, has now turned its eyes to Jan Mayen. According to Marianne Stigset at Bloomberg:

“This is extreme exploration,” Bente Nyland, head of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, said in an interview on the island on Sept. 23. “You’re in an area where you have very little control, so you need to have a lot more knowledge before you can start any activity.”

BP, Europe’s second-largest oil company, estimates the Arctic Ocean may hold around 200 billion barrels of oil equivalent, or 25 percent to 50 percent of the world’s undiscovered hydrocarbons. The U.S. Geological Survey last year estimated the area to hold 90 billion barrels of oil.

Exploration will also have to deal with the island's extreme unpredictability: it has Beerenberg, a 2,277-meter volcano that could erupt again at any moment (it last blew in 1985and is overdue for another), and earthquakes are rampant here. According to Stigset, dense fog and heavy winds often make landing on the island impossible for sometimes as long as a week. Access by sea is limited by reefs.

Jan Mayen Island is said to have been discovered in the 6th Century, by the Irish monk St.Brendan. His ship sailed past it during a volcanic eruption and the monk literally thought he had arrived at the gates of Hell. The nickname has since stuck.