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The first geological mapping of Greenland took place in the early 20th Century. From 1946 the Geological Survey of Greenland (GGU) began research and mapping which was later continued by GEUS (Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland).
Meanwhile the search for hydrocarbons in the Arctic had begun in the 1930s in Canada and Alaska, intensifying in the 1960s. Potential was confirmed by the discovery of the Prudhoe Bay field in Alaska in 1968. Consequently, in 1969, Greenland began to attract the interest of the oil industry.
The first phase of exploration activity was concentrated in the west where environmental conditions are the least challenging and where, in the Disko-Nuusuaq-Svartenhuk area of West Greenland, considerable thicknesses of Cretaceous to Tertiary sediments had been recognised. During 1969 to 1974 seismic, gravity and magnetic surveys were undertaken. Three areas were opened for licensing and, in 1975, 6 groups were awarded blocks.
Seismic was acquired and 5 wells were drilled in 1976 and 1977 but all were dry, although a wet gas kick was recognised in one of these wells. By the end of 1978 all the concessions had been relinquished. Some early interest was also shown in North Greenland where geological studies and an aeromagnetic survey were carried out between 1969 and 1972.
With the discovery of fields in the North Sea in Norway attention was re-directed to potentially analogous sediments in east Greenland. Some seismic was collected from 1975 to 1977 and In 1978 the North Atlantic D project (NAD) was initiated by the Danish Energy Authority. This incorporated all geophysical data available and added a large aeromagnetic survey onshore and several thousand kilometres of offshore seismic between 1980 and 1982.
The final report in 1985 pointed to the northern part of East Greenland as being most prospective. In 1984 a licence over the onshore Jameson Land Basin was acquired but no drilling ensued and it was relinquished in 1990.
The KANUMAS (Kalaallit Nunaat Marine Seismic) Project was initiated in 1989. This involved the granting of a prospecting licence to a consortium of companies to investigate the potential for oil and gas in the area off the coast of Northwest and Northeast Greenland. Between 1990 and 1996 the KANUMAS Project collected over 7,000 kms of seismic data, covering the extreme northern areas.
Meanwhile the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland mapped oil seeps on Disco Island and in neighbouring areas of West Greenland and 5 onshore wells were drilled in 1995 and 1996. New licences were awarded offshore in 1996 and a dry offshore well was drilled in 2000 by Statoil.
Oil and gas licensing of offshore areas started again in the early 2000s, with licensing rounds in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2012. In addition, Greenland offered a separate open door procedure in the Jameson Land and South West Greenland areas in 2002 and 2008, respectively. The only company that has undertaken extensive drilling to date is Cairn Energy. In 2010 the company drilled 3 wells, followed by a further 5 in 2011 all in West Greenland, but its efforts have resulted in no commercial discoveries.
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Oil and gas forecasts
Despite repeated phases of activity around the coast of Greenland no oil or gas production is forecast for the territory. There has been insufficient success in any of the wells drilled since 1976 to warrant including Greenland in Globalshift’s global production model. This is particularly true in view of the harsh environment of the region, the continued pressure of environmentalists wishing to protect the Arctic from the oil and gas industry, and lower oil prices brought on by the advent of light tight oil production in North America.