Petroleum activities off Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja

Publish date: May 6, 2010

The sea areas outside Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja are among the Norwegian coast line's most valuable. Oil activities here would threaten the natural values and renewable fish resources and increase Norway's greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why Bellona works for the preservation of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja as areas without exploitation of oil and gas.
  •  Oil activities outside Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja will threaten vital natural resources such as fish, seabirds, marine mammals and coral reefs
  •  The current oil spill response is too poor to function effectively outside Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja
  •  Seismic shooting scares the fish away and displaces the fishing industry
  •  The climate crisis requires that fossil fuels are phased out

Commercial activities outside Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja are governed by the Management Plan for the Barents Sea and the waters outside of Lofoten. This year the management plan from 2006 is to be revised by the Parliament, and it will be decided whether it should be set in motion a process to open the waters off Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja for oil drilling, or whether the waters will be given the status of petroleum-free areas.

Among Norway’s political parties the Centre party, the Liberals, the Christian Democratic Party and the Socialist Left Party are all opposed to oil operations in these areas. The opposition parties the Conservatives and the Progress Party are both in favour. Labour – presently governing in coalition with the Socialist Left party and the Centre – have yet to decide, but say they are awaiting the revision of the management plan. So far, this is as well the compromise within the government. Bellona is working together with the the local organization for a Oil-Free Lofoten, Vesterålen og Senja and our other allies to spread information and influence the politicians to say yes to the preservation of these areas.

Vast natural resources

The sea areas off Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja are among the richest in the world with a diversity of renewable natural resources. In these waters spawn a number of our most important commercial fish species such as cod, haddock and herring. The world’s last robust cod populations are located in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja. Outside Røst lies the world’s largest cold water coral reefs. The cold water coral reef helps to maintain a number of important species. Røst is the largest colony of puffins on the European mainland, and the area outside the Andøya is important for several types of whales.

The resources of the sea forms the basis for employment and settlement in the region. If they are taken care of, they may continue to do so for all foreseeable future.

Risk of oil spills

Petroleum activities will always involve risk of accidents and serious emissions. Oil spills at sea are far easier to manage than spills closer to land, and spills in proximity to land makes limiting the damage of emissions more difficult. Outside of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja the Norwegian continental shelf is at its narrowest. Any oil activity here will have to be very close to the shore. If an accident should happen during the main spawning period for cod, herring, or while larvae from the northwest coast drive by, large parts of a whole cohort of fish could be lost. Additionally, effective oil spill response is impeded because of strong currents, cold weather and the fact that areas far north are dark large parts of the year.

Along the coast of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja we find many large and small islands. This gives large cavities, where oil spills can be filled in and washed out by changing tides. The many wetlands in the tidal zone can act as a sponge for oil. At present we do not have equipment that will be able to effectively clean up an oil spill from these habitats, and we run the risk that oil from an accident can be left to the detriment of nature for a long time.

The government’s own environmental professional bodies – The Climate and pollution agency, The Institute of Marine Research, The Directorate for Nature Management and the Norwegian Polar Institute – have warned against all oil operations off Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja:

“When it comes to areas from Lofoten to Senja, as these are so special and important for our most important fisheries, we have to warn against the petroleum operations in these particularly vulnerable areas.”
–  Institute of Marine Research, 2003

The number of small and large accidental spills on the Norwegian shelf is rising. In December 2007, the second largest oil spill in Norwegian history happened on the Statfjord A platform in the North Sea. Together with the Climate and pollution agency the Norwegian Coastal Administration recently expressed concern about the increasing number of accidents on the Norwegian continental shelf.

Seismic shooting

Seismic surveys are carried out by shooting powerful sound waves down to the seabed. Reflecting sound waves from the ocean floor tell whether it is likely to find oil or gas in the area.[picture1 large]

Seismic shooting is part of the oil industry, during both exploration and normal operation. There are large gaps in our knowledge about the effects of the seismic shooting on marine life, For example, we do not know if and how the shooting scares fish and how this may affect the fishermen’s catch rate. Research has shown that catches of fish in areas where seismic shooting has been carried out can be reduced by up to 80 percent. We also need more research on seismic effects on zooplankton, the main food for fish and fish larvae, and how loud noise can act as a stress factor on smaller fish.

In April 2010 a new survey on seismic shooting was presented, showing that the effects varied from species to species. However, the survey lacked info about the effects of seismic shooting on cod, one of the most important species outside Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja.

Any oil operations off the Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja will involve extensive shooting of seismic data. On the narrow shelf in this region it is very difficult for the oil industry to co-exist with the fishing industry.

Climate Crisis

IPCC says that global greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by up to 85 percent by 2050 and that the peak in emissions must be no later than 2015 (IPCC 2007). In Norway emissions from the oil industry nearly doubled since 1990. This makes this sector the main reason why Norway has not been able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions despite the clear international obligations.

Norway exports large quantities of oil and gas to the rest of the world. The oil industry is trying to justify this by claiming that the Norwegian oil and gas is the “cleanest in the world.” However, consumption is by far more important for emissions than consumption. In this context, Norwegian oil is not greener than other oil.