Barents area creeping up in EU policy circles

Publish date: October 2, 2006

BRUSSELS - A long overdue conference dealing with energy issues in the Barents region was organized in Brussels on September 26th, and although no European Commission (EC) officials attended to debate energy issues and discuss dispute management, Bellona Europa is nonetheless encouraged to see that such questions are now making their way into Brussels policy circles.

The joint initiative among the Madariaga European Foundation, the Barents Institute and the East-West Institute gathered approximately thirty participants, mostly from industry and research circles in Norway, Finland, and Russia for discussion at Madariaga.

Atle Stolesen of Madariaga, said he was disappointed with the final turnout as non of the invited EC representatives were able to attend. But the list of attendees was nonetheless impressive enough to put the issue on the map.

Kim Traavik, permanent representative of Norway to the North Atlantic Council, kicked-off the day confident that, although the High North is not yet priority area for the European Union (EU), there are good reasons for that to change.

Among these reasons Traavik noted that the Barents area was an emerging energy province of considerable importance – especially considering the fact that oil and gas will remain a key source of energy for decades. It is also the scene of far-reaching and bilateral cooperation, which could be emulated in other parts of the world. The Barents region is also, Traavik said, an important “weather laboratory”.

Indeed, as the theater for three of the main issues facing the world today – energy security, resource management, and climate change – the Barents region will increasingly surface on the EU’s radar screen.

Regrettably, the exploitation of oil and gas resources and other projects coming down the road in the High North seemed to be a given for most participants. Exploitation of the Shtokman field in particular – which is estimated to be one of the largest untapped gas and oil resources in the worlds – were discussed.

Vladimir Chizhov, permanent representative of the Russian Federation to the EU, emphasized the need to develop new technical solutions adapted to the harsh conditions of the Far North. Chizhov’s remarks reflected the current conundrum that Russia faces regarding the development of the underwater Arctic Shtokman field – Russia owns the leasing rights to the property, but does not have the technological edge to develop the field without the assistance of more advanced Western partners.

Beyond technical fixes toward exploiting the Shtokman field’s resources, Tor-Ivar Pedersen, senior advisor for Norwegian oil giant Statoil, spoke of the need for political openness and efficient communication channels, including local, regional, and national stakeholders.