Anyone at all interested in oil exploration in Iceland is probably familiar with some of the more controversial topics such as environmental repercussions and the private companies involved. While it is clear from the news coverage that there has been activity in Drekasvæðið for the last few years, the impetus of the search is a tad murky.
The best way to investigate the rationale behind the exploration is a brief history/geology lesson, that with any luck, won’t be as boring as your high school classes (Buuuuuueller? Buuuuuueller?).
At a time when the Tyrannosaurus rex roamed the earth, Norway and Greenland were much closer together. As the continents separated a piece was left behind, which created the Jan Mayen Ridge, or microcontinent.
Fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal, etc.) are created from decomposed organic matter and can only be found on land, even if that land is now beneath the sea. In the 1960s and 1970s American and French scientists conducted surveys in the Norwegian sea and found the microcontinent. This discovery meant the conditions necessary for fossil fuels exist in that area.
A microcontinent? Wow! I wanna see, I wanna see!
The news of a microcontinent is big for geologists (remember these are the guys with the big rock collections), so the ’70s and ’80s brought on an onslaught of studies and surveys by French, American, German, British, Norwegian and Soviet academics, as well and the Icelandic and Norwegian governments.
This cumulated into a 1989 report by Gunnarsson, Sand & Gudlaugsson that showed the likelihood of resources in the Jan Mayen Ridge. They found that much of the source-rock had reached the oil window, meaning the rocks were hot enough for oil extraction to be possible.
By 2008, Orkustofnun (the National Energy Authority of Iceland) could confidently say that there is at least the potential for resources.
Jan Mayen Ridge, got it. So then what’s all this talk about Drekasvæðið?
The Jan Mayen Ridge (black dotted line) is located in the Norwegian sea between Iceland and Norway. In 1981 the Icelandic and Norwegian governments agreed to limit their exploration to their economic zones. Drekasvæðið (red line) is the area of the Jan Mayen Ridge that Iceland has a right to.
The exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is area that lies outside of a country’s territory, but that they have the right to use. Birgir Hrafn Búason, a lawyer at the Iceland Ministry for Foreign Affairs, told us that “none of Drekasvæðið is within Iceland’s territorial water’s, but rather its EEZ. Within its EEZ Iceland has exclusive rights to utilize marine resources”.
Sorry, I wasn’t paying attention…
The Jan Mayen Ridge is a piece of leftover continent from the Cretaceous period. Lots of studies were done in the 1960s-1980s in the area and scientists definitively declared, that there might be resources there, probably. Since Jan Mayen is between Iceland and Norway, the two governments decided in 1981 who gets to look where. Drekasvæðið is the bit of the Jan Mayen Ridge that Iceland has a right to search.