Wildlife in Europe’s last unspoiled sea under threat from oil and gas development



Posted on 04 April 2003  | 
Oslo, Norway - The most environmentally vulnerable areas of the Barents Sea are in the exact same areas where new oil and gas development is set to take place, according to a new report from WWF. The report, The Barents Sea: a sea of opportunities and threats, maps the most biologically vulnerable areas of the Barents Sea against planned petroleum-related activities and shows clearly the overlap between the two. The Barents Sea, which lies between Spitsbergen (Svalbard), Norway and Russia, is Europe’s last unspoiled marine environment. It is home to unique sea bird colonies, including one of the world’s largest puffin colonies, huge reefs, including the biggest cold water reef in the word, large populations of seals, whales and polar bears. It is one of the few ecosystems in Europe still relatively intact. The oil industry, including companies such as Statoil and Agip, is lobbying the Norwegian Government to open the Barents Sea to oil and gas development. The industry opposes proposed plans for petroleum-free zones, claiming oil companies can operate without harming the environment. In a new development last week, WWF has discovered that while the Norwegian government has commissioned environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for oil and gas developments in the Barents Sea, some assessments — such as the environmental impact assessment of oil and gas on fisheries — were carried out in just four weeks. At the same time the Norwegian government also secretly asked oil companies to comment on the drafts before they were sent out for public hearing, so undermining both their scientific and independent credibility. "Oil and gas exploration and production is never a no-risk activity. WWF would prefer oil and gas companies to stay out of sensitive areas of biodiversity, but where this is unavoidable, then oil and gas free zones must be put in place first," said Samantha Smith, director of WWF’s Arctic Programme. "The alternative is to risk an oil spill in the Barents that could have dramatic consequences for both the people and the environment of the region." Norway prides itself on its green credentials, she said, but at a time when the US Senate has just voted for the second time not to open the Arctic Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas development, Norway appears to be consulting with the oil companies about how it can fast-track oil development in Europe’s last unspoiled marine environment. "The Norwegian government still has the chance to set a precedent for oil and gas exploration in arctic waters," Samantha Smith added. "They must ensure that they complete full, proper and, crucially, independent biological assessment of areas, and where appropriate, petroleum-free zones created, before any go-ahead is given for oil and gas development." For further information: Samantha Smith WWF Arctic Programme Tel: +47 45 02 21 49 E-mail: ssmith@wwf.no Julian Woolford WWF Arctic Programme Tel: +47 93 00 64 47 E-mail: jwoolford@wwf.no

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