First petroleum project in Norwegian Barents Sea stirs intense debatePlans to develop Norway’s first natural gas field in the Barents Sea have raised serious concerns about future petroleum activity in this fragile marine ecosystem. Scheduled to begin in the spring of 2002, the Snøhvit project will be located in one of the most significant areas for biodiversity and commercial fish stocks in the arctic region.
By offering a series of tax breaks to Statoil and its project partners that are not currently available to other Norwegian petroleum companies, the recently resigned Labour Party Government has opened the door for massive petroleum activity in the Norwegian Barents Sea. Exploratory drilling has revealed several promising fields, and the launch of several other petroleum projects in the near future appears likely. A relatively large oil reserve in the Goliat field has recently been discovered by AGIP, a company based in Italy. Production is scheduled to begin by 2004—05.
The Snøhvit project has been strongly criticized by environmental agencies in the Norwegian government, and Norwegian fisheries, aquaculture and conservation organizations, which have called for a strategic environmental assessment for the Barents Sea before any petroleum activity is started.
The Barents Sea is among the outstanding examples of biodiversity representing the world’s major habitat types, WWF’s "Global 200 Ecoregions". The ecoregion supports some of the world’s most productive fisheries and rich concentrations of seabirds, marine mammals and other fauna. At the same time, its’ simple food webs make it very vulnerable to disturbance, and for this reason, negative impacts on key species may have far-reaching consequences.
While the Barents Sea Ecoregion is fairly well studied, little is known about how it may be affected by acute emissions or smaller-scale discharges over the long-term. However, recent investigations by the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research have shown that chemicals found in so-called "produced water", a by-product of petroleum extraction, contribute to reduced fertility in female cod. These findings have further increased attention on the environmental impacts of Norway’s petroleum industry.
Norway’s newly appointed conservative coalition government has announced that it will develop a holistic management plan for the Barents Sea before further projects are approved, and is also considering the establishment of so-called "petroleum-free fisheries zones". Shell Oil and Statoil have announced that they will postpone all oil operations in the fragile Lofoten area, the main breeding grounds of Atlantic cod, until the conflict between fisheries and oil interests are resolved.
WWF welcomes these proposals but is encouraging the government to take a tougher stance by putting the project on hold until the management plan is adopted. Unless this happens, massive investments and installed infrastructure will restrict opportunities for well planned and environmentally adapted petroleum development in the Norwegian Barents Sea.
For further information contact:
Marine Conservation Officer, WWF-Norway
Tel.: + 47 22 03 6 512; Email: firstname.lastname@example.org