Norway to put nature before oil
The decision is a U-turn for the Norwegian government, which offered the seas off the islands for oil development after oil companies expressed an interest in drilling there. The government has decided not to allow exploration in the area despite claims by the oil companies that there was as much as $US1 billion worth of oil beneath the seas.
Pressure from WWF, fishermen, and tourist operators in the last 2 months, together with deep unease in political and social circles in Norway, forced the government to decide "NO" to oil drilling in Lofoten, until 2005. WWF expects that in 2005 the government will fully protect the Lofoten Islands on completion of its Barents Sea Management Plan.
The Lofoten Islands are 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.
Samantha Smith, director of WWF’s Arctic Programme, said: "This is a landmark decision which oil companies planning to explore in the Arctic should take note of. Some things are more important than short-term oil and gas profits. It is no longer acceptable to explore for oil in biologically vulnerable and valuable areas. We have seen this happen in the US over the Arctic Refuge and now we have seen it in Lofoten."
However, WWF was surprised and disappointed by the government’s decision to allow exploratory drilling in the Goliath field off northern Norway. The area is very close to major seabird colonies and fish spawning grounds.
Samantha Smith said: "The Norwegian government is producing a management plan of the Barents Sea and the idea that it can somehow open up areas of that sea — like Goliath — for oil and gas development before this is completed is crazy and totally inconsistent. WWF will not allow full scale development to take place in Goliath without a major battle."
WWF issued its own report this month, The Barents Sea Ecoregion Biodiversity Assessment, which maps the vulnerable and valuable areas of the Barents. It shows that areas where the oil industry wish to drill for oil are in some of these most vulnerable areas. The Barents Sea is still one of Europe’s last large, clean and relatively undisturbed ecosystems. Among its most spectacular features are the world’s highest density of seabirds, some of the world’s richest fisheries, and diverse and rare communities of marine mammals.
For further information:
WWF Arctic Programme
Tel: + 47 22 03 65 18 or +47 45 02 21 49 (mobile)
WWF Arctic Programme
Tel.: +47 22 03 65 10 or +47 22 20 06 66 (mobile)