Norway awaits revised report of offshore drilling sites

Norway’s Environment Ministry plans to release a report in April detailing plans for the future management of the oil-rich but environmentally sensitive area off the Lofoten Islands.

Eric Watkins
OGJ Oil Diplomacy Editor

LOS ANGELES, Mar. 5 -- Norway’s Environment Ministry plans to release a report in April detailing plans for the future management of the oil-rich but environmentally sensitive area off the Lofoten Islands.

Norway developed a management plan for the waters of the Lofoten Islands and the Barents Sea in 2006. That plan allowed for exploration in parts of the Barents Sea, but banned it for the area around the islands.

That ruling might change under a revised management plan, scheduled for presentation in April, which would open to the oil industry the Lofoten waters, as well as vast new areas in the Norwegian and Barents Sea.

Norway’s Petroleum Directorate will complete its recommendations this month and will present a report for publication by the Environment Ministry on Apr. 15. NPD’s report will be distributed for public hearings and a Parliament Report will be ready in early 2011.

NPD has conducted seismic surveys since 2008 to determine whether there are hydrocarbon deposits off the islands’ coasts, which are home to the spawning grounds of the world's largest cod stock.

The region could hold about 20% of all remaining undiscovered reserves on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, according to NPD. But Norway's centre-left government is divided about opening the area to exploration.

Meanwhile, Norwegian oil association Oljeindustriens Landsforening (OLF) said exploration in the Lofoten and Vesteraarlen islands in the Arctic could be a step closer after a report said seismic surveys in the area had mixed impacts on valuable fish stocks.

“This report is really important for us because it helps us achieve our goal of opening the area for exploration,” said OLF spokesman Tom Gederoe, who said the report shows that seismic surveys are “not a problem for the fish.”

In fact, the report by the Norwegian Institute of Marine Research said seismic surveys actually increased catches of some species, while driving away other species.

“Gillnet catches of Greenland halibut and redfish rose during seismic shooting and remained higher after the end of the campaign than they had been before,” the report said.

But fishermen who oppose oil drilling off the island chains said the report showed seismic surveys scared away the fish. Reidar Nilsen, head of the Norwegian Fishermen's Association, said the report confirmed earlier suspicions that seismic shooting damages fishing, and that such surveys should happen well away from fishing sites.

But Paul O. Jensen, head of the Association of Norwegian Coastal Fishermen, said seismic surveys should stop altogether.

According to earlier reports, 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 (OGJ Online, Jan. 18, 2010).

Meanwhile, NPD said only two wells—Skrugard and Heilo—will be drilled in the Norwegian part of the Barents Sea in 2010. The wells will be drilled by Statoil SA and GDF Suez, respectively.

Contact Eric Watkins at hippalus@yahoo.com.

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