Europe’s last unspoiled sea needs better protection against increase in oil tanker traffic
The Barents Sea is home to polar bears.
Oslo, Norway - Following the news that Russia has dropped its opposition to plans for a privately owned oil pipeline to Murmansk from Russia’s oil fields, WWF is calling on the Russian government to join Norway's plans to give the Barents Sea status as a particularly sensitive sea area (PSSA). This would allow more stringent regulations on shipping activities in the area.
According to WWF, should the pipeline be built, the port on the Russian coast could become a major oil distribution terminal by 2007 — much sooner than previously expected.
Around 2.5 million barrels of oil a day (approx. 325,000 tons) would be transported by tanker from Murmansk to the United States through the Barents Sea's most biologically sensitive areas.
The Barents Sea 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.
WWF wants the area recognized as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) under the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO).
This would, for example, enable the Russian and Norwegian governments to require oil tankers to sail safe distances away from the sensitive coastal areas of north-west Russia and northern Norway, as well as enforce the mandatory reporting of ship movements in the area.
Following appeals by WWF, the Norwegian government has now decided to move forward with plans to recognize the Barents Sea a PSSA, a decision that the conservation organization applauds.
"Without proper protection, the Barents Sea, particularly in the biologically-rich coastal areas, will be at risk from oil spills which could do untold damage to this unique area," said Samantha Smith, Director of WWF’s International Arctic Programme. "Norway and Russia have the chance to break new ground in conservation planning through recognizing the Barents as a PSSA. At present, there are no adequate oil spill contingency plans in place at all for this area."
The new pipeline and Murmansk port development plan adds to the threats already facing the Barents Sea. The oil industry is lobbying the Norwegian Government to open the Barents Sea to oil and gas development.
In Russia large off shore oil and gas fields are likely to be developed within a few years.
For further information:
WWF Arctic Programme
Tel: +47 22 03 65 18
WWF International Arctic Programme
Tel: +47 93 00 64 47
Olivier van Bogaert
Press Office, WWF International
Tel.: +41 22 364 95 54