Russia's Rosneft and Norway’s Statoil have joined forces in an exploratory oil and gas drilling program in the Norwegian Arctic. The announcement came just days after the Russian oil giant asked Moscow for debt relief.
The partnership agreement preceded recent sanctions against Moscow, and is exempt from them as a result.
The two companies have "started exploration operations at the Pingvin License PL713 prospect in the Norwegian section of the Barents Sea," Rosneft said in a statement.
The Arctic well will descend 422 meters (1,384 feet) to the sea floor, and then through layers of subsea rock to a total depth of 1,516 meters. Rosneft characterized the drilling location as "the most promising and prolific area of the Barents Sea next to the discovered Castberg fields."
The exploration plan was developed last year, after a Rosneft subsidiary won a 20- percent stake in the prospect area during a licensing round by Norway's oil ministry. Analyzing the results of the exploratory drilling is expected to take until the end of the year, according to Rosneft.
Sanctions not yet stopping oil deals
The move comes despite tightening Western sanctions over Moscow's involvement in Ukraine - and despite the fact that both companies are majority-owned by their respective national governments.
The West has targeted Kremlin-controlled Rosneft with sanctions due to the company's key role in Russia's oil industry. The company's CEO, Igor Sechin, is a close ally and senior advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Rosneft-Chef: Sanktionen verschärfen Konflikte
Although Norway is not an EU member, the country has followed Brussels in imposing sanctions against Russia, which are intended to deprive Rosneft of foreign investment and access to modern technology.
The policy included a one-year ban on equipment and technology for offshore Arctic oil drilling ventures. However, the restrictions only pertain to future projects - not to those signed before the sanctions came into effect. The measures have had limited impact so far, but that could change if they are extended by several years.
The largest publicly traded oil company in the world as measured by barrels of oil produced, Rosneft had appealed to Moscow last week for state aid to help pay off its 1.5 trillion rubles of debt ($42 billion, 31 billion euros), which the company took on in its push to become Russia's top oil company.
Rosneft also has deals with US's ExxonMobil, Italy's ENI and Norway's North Atlantic Drilling to prospect for oil in the Russian sections of the Arctic shelf - a region many analysts believe could harbor very large oil and gas deposits.