The plan paves the way for increased petroleum activity near the coast of Finnmark, in northern Norway on the Barents Sea close to the main spawning and hatching area of capelin, a forage fish that historically used to provide the largest catch to Norwegian fisheries. The coastal area also hosts large seabird populations, many of them species that Norway has special responsibility for in terms of European conservation management. A protected area of 35 km from the coast is stated in the plan and gives a drifting time of only one day in case of an oil spill. No new activity will be allowed in the 50 km zone, but paradoxically four new blocks for oil activity have been given out as of today within this 50 km zone—in spite of the acknowledged vulnerability of the area. The Norwegian Polar Institute, the Directorate for Nature Management, and the Norwegian Pollution Control Authority have earlier stated that a two day drift zone (72 km) was necessary to prevent great damage to the coastal environment.
“The battle for permanent protected areas will continue. It is a paradox that the Government recognises the vulnerability of the Finnmark coast and creates a protection zone concurrent with an allocation of oil blocks in the same zone. This is not environmentally defendable from a scientific point of view but a result from political horse-trading.”
—Frederic Hauge, head of Bellona
“The Norwegian Government promised a long-term management plan for the Barents Sea but has instead presented a short-term plan demanding that we again battle for the environment concerning any new oil block and oil rig in the Barents Sea in the years to come. We will not abandon these vulnerable areas at sea. Bellona is ready to fight against Goliat and other oil projects in the Barents Sea”
In the Ministry-released plan no areas are given permanent protection against petroleum activity, a fact that was especially important for the area Lofoten—Vesterålen where the North-East Arctic cod has its main spawning and hatching area. Norwegian fishermen have exploited this fishing resource in Lofoten since the Viking Ages. The Lofoten area is also the main tourist area in Northern Norway, and The Norwegian Seafood Export Council fears that oil activity in this area will be damaging to the reputation and the export value of Norwegian fish. Bellona fears that the oil companies’ strong lobby will force through petroleum activity against all scientific expertise that strongly warns against any such activity in this vulnerable area. Environmental organisations will fight for permanent petroleum free areas in the coming years.
“It is five years since the demonstrations in Lofoten lead to a victory against the oil industry. The decision not to drill for oil in Lofoten and Vesterålen inspire new battles for the environment in the Barents Sea. The battle for permanent petroleum free areas is not lost, just postponed.”
The Barents Sea, a sensitive ecosystem in the Arctic region already under great pressure due to climate change, is one of the least explored European oceans. The combined effect of oil activity and climate change has not been evaluated and Bellona deeply fears for the future of this vulnerable ecosystem.
Guro Hauge 91878318
Unni Berge 99205080
Maria Fossheim 23234624 / 48064548