EU Commissioner Piebalgs calls for prudence in the Barents Sea

EUs energikommissær Andris Piebalgs
(foto: EU)

Publish date: September 23, 2008

PARIS - Some hundred Brussels stakeholders attended Friends of Europe’s debate “Developing Europe’s energy security” in Brussels Friday. In the panel discussion, the European Commissioner for Energy, Andris Piebalgs, supported gas and oil explorations in the Arctic, but at the same time called for prudence.

Exploration of the Arctic, Piebalgs said “is not the magic solution that we are looking for” because it will not entirely solve Europe’s problem of security of supply in the long run, but guaranteeing Europe’s energy security justifies Europe’s aspirations to move towards oil and gas explorations in the Arctic.

He said that at the same time Europe needs to concentrate more on technology development for renewable energies.

Clear rules

In the panel discussion at the meeting in Brussel, the CEO of StatoilHydro, Helge Lund and head of the European climate and energy policy team for World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Stephan Singer, also took part.

Piebalgs and Lund did not shy from letting their support oil exploration be known, and at several junctures stressed that the Arctic should not be made immune from oil prospecting and drilling.  But Piebalg’s emphasis on clear rules, environmental impact studies and  respoNsible implementation of oil project by companies working in the area are a welcome step in the right direction.

“Although Piepbalgs supports oil and gas exploration in the Arctic, we are very happy that he also has some concerns,” said Bellona advisor Elizabeth Saether. “Bellona is in strong opposition to oil and gas activity in the High North and we hope that the Norwegian Government, being the biggest owner of StatoilHydro (Norway’s oil and gas giant), could make sure that it puts more effort into renewables instead of working on further oil an ga exploration in the High North,” Saether said.

StatoilHydro eager to go ahead

Paal Frisvold, the chair of Bellona Europa, raised the issue of governance following Russia’s recent claim to extend its economic zone to cover the North Pole. “This is a real challenge for EU and Norway,” said Frisvold.

Whether the Arctic should be considered the new frontier of Europe’s energy supply and thus energy security, StatoilHydro’s CEO Lund said that it was in Europe’s interest that the Arctic region is explored for oil and gas. He pointed to the fact that without exploration of the Arctic, Europe’s energy security will depend increasingly on Russia’s energy supply.

Could endanger the ecosystem

EU Commissioner Piebalgs, however, called for caution due to unclear border lines between the surrounding countries. He said he “would signal a strong word of caution” on how the world should deal with that region.

Piebalgs has made clear he has positive views on gas and oil exploration in the Arctic. He said  earlier this week that companies “need to go into hostile environments” to strike oil, and brushes aside the notion of protected areas saying: “You can’t say ‘this is a sanctuary’ because it will not work […] Otherwise, where will we get energy from," in remarks reported by

Pieblags speaks in favor of strict regulation

But he also tempered his aggressive approach with specific worries for the environment, saying that the oil and gas companies will need to be very careful.

“I am not at ease with the development in the Arctic,” the commissioner said pointing to the environmental risks in the region. In his opinion possible future explorations could endanger the ecosystem since not all companies have environmental standards like StatoilHydro.

Piebalgs said that now it is very important to concentrate on two projects: Stockman and Northstream pipeline, because these would provide experience of Gazprom working with many European companies. He also emphasized that Russia and Europe’s cooperation on this field will lead to new diversification and psychological interdependence.

The companies developing the Arctic, he said, need to take "all environmental precautions". "You need clear-cut rules, clear environmental impact assessments and very responsible implementation," quoted Piebalgs as saying.

"You need clear-cut rules, clear environmental impact assessments and very responsible implementation," he said, though added that Arctic environments should not be cut out of oil exploration prospects simply because they are in the Arctic, said.

The Artic is dying

Singer from WWF strongly opposed any further explorations in the Arctic because, “the Arctic is dying and any further presence of oil industry there will put more pressure on the already difficult situation.”

"We need to get rid of our oil dependency overall […] We cannot wait until the last drop," Singer said, according to

He said that moving and working in the Arctic requires high qualifications that no oil company has. He drew attention to the fact that even StatoilHydro has a record of accidents in fragile ecosystems.

Lund also agreed that the ecosystem is very important and that any energy supply company needs to address it. He pointed to the fact that CO2 Capture and Storage (CCS) is and will be a very important factor in terms of preventing greenhouse gasses.

Yet, “it is imperative that the question of CCS financing be resolved as soon as possible,” Lund said.

But Lund is also not chummy with the idea of leaving Arctic oil resources untouched, saying a "massive exploration effort" is required in the area. "Having options is always a good thing," he stressed, highlighting the EU’s major dependency on Russian and Middle Eastern energy supplies.

Prolonging existing fields

Frisvold referred to Bellona’s study showing that it would be more efficient to invest in Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR) in oil exploitation from existing fields, instead of moving towards the Arctic. He said that by using CO2 for EOR in existing fields oil exploitation can be prolonged from five to fifteen years.

Singer said that making drilling of oil more environmentally friendly does not resolve the problem and that instead oil companies “have to change towards reducing the output of oil”.

However, Lund thought that any realistic scenario in the next few decades needs to rely on gas and oil.

A new Communication on the Artic

Later this year, the European Commission will present a Communication on the Arctic region. The Communication is expected to examine strategic issues ranging from climate change to questions relating to governance.

Its aim will be to assess how Europe can best contribute towards the sustainable development of the region while protecting the Arctic from environmental changes resulting from the increasing human activity that this development will entail.

(Bellona Brussels correspondent Boris Manev contributed this article from Paris.)