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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Statoil says exploration drilling to begin off Newfoundland in summer

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - Norwegian energy firm Statoil says it will begin exploration drilling off Newfoundland later this year in an effort to determine whether to develop an offshore oilfield believed to hold up to 600 million barrels of recoverable crude.

The company said Friday that the drilling will likely take place between July and September and span 18 months in the Flemish Pass Basin.

Statoil announced last fall that it had discovered a reservoir of light crude believed to hold between 300 million and 600 million barrels of recoverable oil while drilling in an area known as the Bay du Nord prospect, about 500 kilometres northeast of St. John's.

It was the third find in the Flemish Pass Basin in the North Atlantic and was described as the 12th largest oil discovery in the world in the past four years.

Geir Richardsen, vice-president of exploration for Statoil Canada, said the drilling program this year should help determine a more precise volume of the reservoir.

"It's a great day for us," he said. "We're embarking on a long-term operation because we believe in the area and we have great hopes for the future."

He said they will also undertake a seismic project in the area in late May or early June that involves a 1,900 square-kilometre area.

Richardsen said the area around Bay du Nord is about 1,100 metres deep, making it deeper than other sites like White Rose, Hibernia and Terra Nova which are about 100 metres down.

So far no details have been released on how much the company will spend on the drill program or on how many jobs it will create. Richardsen said the company typically has about 500 people working on a project at the outset, but he didn't know how many would be involved long-term.

Provincial Natural Resources Minister Derrick Dalley said the announcement marked a significant step for the province's petroleum industry.

"Bay du Nord is one of the largest conventional oilfields to be discovered in offshore Canada, and a program such as this one in a high activity frontier area will help to build on the momentum in terms of exploration and appraisal activity," he said in a statement.

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