Poll finds Norwegians want oil exploration assessment

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 18 -- About 73% of Norwegians favor an investigation into the consequences of oil and gas exploration off the northern Lofoten islands, according to an opinion poll conducted on behalf of the country’s oil industry association.

"The poll showed that people think reasonably and wish to get more knowledge before a decision to allow or not to allow exploration in these areas is made," said Gro Braekken, managing director of Norway’s Oljeindustriens Landsforening (OLF).

In November 2009, Statoil estimated that the areas Nordland VI and VII off Lofoten contain 2-3 billion boe, representing a value of as much as $259.6 billion. Statoil said it was ready to start drilling in the area in 2011, but that it needed to wait for a “consequence study” and approval from authorities.

The Statoil oil remarks followed earlier ones by the head of Norway’s petroleum directorate, the Oljedirektoratet (OD), which is responsible for regulation of petroleum resources on the country’s continental shelf.

At the time, OD Chief Bente Nyland told industry journal Teknisk Ukeblad that seismic scans carried out in the previous 2 years confirmed favorable geological foundations with rocks from the Jura-era found at a proper depth for potential oil and gas deposits.

"This is the type of geology where most discoveries on the Norwegian shelf have been made," said Nyland. "Because of that, we have much belief that there are good possibilities offshore Lofoten and Versteralen."

Despite the upbeat remarks and the recent poll, exploration activities are still banned in Norway's northernmost territories, with continuing opposition from environmentalists and politicians who support the nation’s fishing industry.

Lars Haltbrekke, who heads the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature, suggested that the country’s oil industry is being disingenuous when it comes to launching the initiative for gathering more knowledge.

"OLF's former head Per Terje Vold said last year that an investigation of consequences is synonymous with an opening process. The majority of such investigations, conducted previously, have led to an opening," said Haltbrekke.

Earlier this month, the leader of the Center Party of Norway, Liv Signe Navarsete, expressed opposition to the launch of a consequence study of petroleum activities off Lofoten and Versteralen during the current parliamentary period.

Navarsete, whose party is against exploration in Norway’s northern regions, said that protection of fish in the region has priority over the development of its oil.

In 2009, the Norwegian government said it would not open for petroleum activity in Lofoten or Versteralen during the current governing period, which ends in 2013. However, the government also said it would determine in 2010 whether a consequence study should be undertaken for the region.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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