Statoil, the Norwegian national oil company, has begun a two-year drilling programme in Arctic waters to determine the potential of Norway’s share of one of the world’s few remaining unexplored oil prospects.

It also hopes to co-operate with Russian companies such as Gazprom to find oil and gas further into the Arctic, including areas disputed between Russia and Norway.

Over the next 18 months or so, Statoil plans to have a drilling rig working continuously looking for gas in the area around the Snøhvit development, to see if it can find enough to justify building a second line for producing LNG.

Statoil last month became the first company to start deliveries of liquefied natural gas from an offshore field inside the Arctic circle with its Snøhvit project.

Helge Lund, Statoil’s chief executive, has called for an international framework to protect fragile communities and environments in the Arctic, to enable development to go ahead without unacceptable damage. Mr Lund also said it was “important that we can define a framework that respects the sensitivity of those [Arctic] areas, particularly in the Norwegian sea”.

Can this be possible though?