Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft has launched the world’s most ambitious offshore oil and gas project in 2014, the company’s President Igor Sechin said on Saturday.

“This is the most ambitious projects in the world’s oil and gas industry. As part of that, today we have started drilling in the Kara Sea. As we said, this is the biggest such offshore project in the world,” Sechin said.

He said preliminary geological surveying conducted by Rosneft and ExxonMobil showed that this would be a highly profitable undertaking.

“This project will undoubtedly both open new horizons for the Russian Federation and improve energy security globally… we can say that this project is comparable, in terms of reserves, with those in Saudi Arabia and by far exceeds the offshore potential in the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska and Canada,” Sechin said.

Rosneft and ExxonMobil joint venture company Karmorneftegaz began drilling of Universitetskaya-1, Russia’s northernmost well using the West Alpha rig.

The start of the drilling was launched by President Vladimir Putin during a teleconference with Sechin and ExxonMobil Russia CEO Glenn Waller who were both present in the Kara Sea. Putin’s special representative for international cooperation in the Arctic and Antarctic, and a member of the Rosneft Board of Directors, Artur Chilingarov, and North Atlantic Drilling representative Jan Tore Theimann also took part in the ceremony.

Putin said the project was “unique in many ways” and itt will use the latest technology. “A large number of geological surveys have already been carried out, and special environmental protection measures are in place. I know that Rosneft and all of its partners, including ExxonMobil, attach special significance and pay great attention to this aspect, especially in this part of the world with its sensitive ecology,” he said.

He stressed that the commercial success of the project would depend on effective international cooperation. “In spite of the difficult current political situation, pragmatism and common sense still have the upper hand, and that is very gratifying. In our opinion, this is a truly responsible, business-like approach, and only such an approach can be productive. We certainly welcome this position and, in turn, are open to expanding our cooperation with partners,” the president said.

Drilling at the Universitetskaya-1 site, the northernmost oil rig in Russia, will take place in open waters during the ice-free drilling season from August through to late October. The West Alpha rig has undergone additional modernisation to enable it to operate in the Arctic waters and has been furnished with innovative ice control equipment and a system for avoiding collisions with icebergs.

“The start of exploratory drilling in the Kara Sea is the most important event of the year for the global oil and gas industry. As a result of this work we are planning to discover a new Kara sea oil province. Developing of the Arctic shelf has a huge multiplicative effect on the whole Russian economy,” Sechin said.

The West Alpha rig was provided by the Norwegian company North Atlantic Drilling which signed long-term agreements with Rosneft on July 30, 2014 for the offshore drilling. West Alpha was transported via the Barents, Pechora and Kara Seas and installed on the drilling site of the East Prinovozemelskiy-1 License Area in the Kara Sea. The drilling rig made the way of over 1,900 nautical miles to reach its destination. The rig is 30,700 tonnes in deadweight, 70 metres long, 66 metres wide, the derrick hangs 108.5 metres over the main deck, and it drafts during drilling for 21.5 metres.

The rig is held on the drilling site by an 8-anchor positioning system, which provides advanced stability for the rig. Most of the platform is outside the reach of waves, which are no impediment for the rig’s operation. The maximum drilling depth of West Alpha is 7 km. The drilling will continue for two months.

Rosneft and ExxonMobil experts spent several months preparing the rig for the Kara Sea drilling operation. West Alpha was upgraded to improve the overall reliability of its main and supplementary equipment and for all systems to be ready for low temperatures, including, most importantly, life support and evacuation systems.

The rig is equipped with an innovative system for the monitoring of ice condition, icebergs detection and tracking of sea ice. It uses infrared cameras and modern onboard radars, and analyses satellite and air intelligence data.

To make sure West Alpha can operate safely in severe ice conditions, Rosneft and ExxonMobil developed a unique iceberg collision prevention plan. It even includes applying physical action to the ice. Should experts suspect a hummock or floe can damage the rig, special support vessels will tow it away to a safe distance. If physical action is impossible, the system will isolate the well in a way that is harmless for the environment, and the rig will transfer to a safer location. The rig is equipped with two groups of blowout preventers and an enhanced subsea shut-in device.