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Norway keeps an eye on Soviet oil rigs in Barents Sea

The Norwegian government is keeping an anxious eye on Soviet plans to start oil exploration in the Barents Sea. A long-running dispute between the two countries over territorial rights in this desolate, Arctic sea remains to be settled.

Announcement by the Soviet news agency Novosti that exploration would start soon worries the Norwegian Foreign Ministry. Norway has yet to start prospecting in the Barents Sea and has given an undertaking that it will not drill for oil within the disputed zone. The Soviets have given no such undertaking.

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But a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Oslo said there was every indication that initial Soviet drilling will be off the island of Novaya Zemlja, far from the disputed area.

''Naturally, should exploration move further west we would be concerned,'' he said.

Talks on the territorial dispute between the Soviets and Norwegians are to resume in Oslo Dec. 7, according to the Norwegian Foreign Ministry.

The disputed area contains 155 square kilometers of oil-rich continental shelf. The Norwegians want the border decided on the median line principle, a line drawn north into the sea equidistant from Soviet and Norwegian territory. The Soviets say the line should run straight north.

Helge Vindenes, who will lead the Norwegian delegation at the talks, says, ''The Norwegian government has made clear its willingness to negotiate a compromise solution to the mutual benefit of both parties.''

Meanwhile, the Soviets are racing to exploit the oil riches below the Barents Sea. A rig built at the Rauma Repola shipyard in Finland is on its way to the Soviet area of the sea, and Novosti says two more rigs are under construction. All three are specially designed to withstand the harsh Arctic conditions.

Ironically, dynamic positioning equipment for the rigs is being supplied by a Norwegian firm, Kongsberg Vapenfabrikk. This equipment makes it possible for drilling rigs to stay in position without anchoring and can compensate for wind and drift automatically.

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The gaps in Soviet offshore technology were exposed recently in an article in the Swedish technical weekly New Technology by Marie Apler.

Apler, who is attached to the Swedish Embassy in Moscow, where she has studied Soviet oil exploration, wrote: ''The Soviet Union realizes that it has too few offshore specialists and that the education available in the country is insufficient.''

She claims the Soviets recently tested a technique involving high-frequency seismic soundings in prospecting for oil and gas. It has already resulted in 20 new finds in the Caspian Sea, she claims.

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