Norwegian paradise in danger as government secretly decides on oil drilling plans | WWF

Norwegian paradise in danger as government secretly decides on oil drilling plans

Posted on
21 November 2003
Update: Norwegian government decides against the development! Gland, Switzerland - WWF is appalled that the Norwegian government might allow oil companies like Shell, Statoil, and Norske Hydro to drill for oil around the Lofoten Islands in arctic Norway, one of Europe’s natural paradises. The decision is due to be taken in secret, on an undisclosed date in early December. According to WWF, the Norwegian government is on the verge of ignoring the wishes of its own scientists, who believe the direct impact of oil development — from seismic survey work, which can disturb fish and whales, to the devastation caused by an oil spill — would be disastrous for sensitive marine environments such as those of the Lofoten Islands. The area is home to the world's largest cod and herring stocks, shoals of sperm whales and killer whales, some of the largest sea bird colonies in Europe, including puffin and cormorant, and the world’s biggest cold water coral reef, which was only discovered last year. The island community is almost entirely dependent on fishing and tourism for survival. Both activities would be threatened by the proposed oil development, against which WWF is campaigning. The conservation organization wants the islands to become a no-go zone for the oil industry. "The Lofoten Islands are among the most beautiful and wildlife-rich areas in the world. Oil drilling there would put that at risk, and it will not even provide a significant number of new jobs. This is not acceptable," said Rasmus Hansson, CEO of WWF-Norway. "WWF wants the seas surrounding the Lofoten Islands safeguarded for the future, for the wildlife, fisheries, and for the people living and working there." WWF and scientists stress, for example, that the idea of having oil exploration and production in this area could be catastrophic for the 700 killer whales that feed on the schools of herring wintering in the waters near the Lofoten Islands. The sheltered waters between the islands and the mainland are also where the killer whales give birth to their calves — a spectacle that brings tourists from around the world. Both the Norwegian Pollution Agency (SFT) and the Institute of Marine Research (IMR) recommend the sector around the Lofoten Islands should not be opened for oil exploration and production because it is too sensitive. A recent Norwegian Environmental Impact Assessment of the Barents Sea region, which includes the Lofoten Islands, also clearly shows that the area is the most valuable biologically in the Barents. If the government gives the go ahead to this project, WWF fears it could open the way for further oil development in other sensitive zones around the Norwegian coast and into the Barents Sea. This would add an unacceptable risk on Norwegian coastal livelihood and the environment. "The Lofoten islands are the heart of the spawning area for the large Arctic Norwegian cod stock living in the Barents Sea," said Ole Arve Misund, Head of department, Institute of Marine Research, in Bergen (Norway). "There is a major risk that this spawning area might be destroyed in the event of an oil spill. This is why we have advised against any oil development in the area." Despite this, oil companies such as Shell, Norske Hydro and Statoil have been pushing for permission to explore and produce oil in the Barents Sea region and the Lofoten area in particular. For further information: Julian Woolford WWF Arctic Programme Tel.: +47 22 03 65 10 or +47 93 00 64 47 (mobile) Olivier van Bogaert Press Office, WWF International Tel.: +41 22 364 9554