The announcement to support an impact assessment study is a turnaround from what has been Prime Minister Stoltenberg’s government policy over the last eight years. Stoltenberg’s three-party coalition has agreed that any initiatives towards oil drilling off Lofoten should be put on hold.
The waters around the Lofoten islands are the spawning ground of the largest cod population in the world.
Norway in 2006 adopted its management plan for the Barents Sea and the Lofoten waters. The plan opened up for exploration in parts of the Barents Sea, but banned drilling in the vulnerable and oil-rich Lofoten area.
Last week, the program committee in the Labor party made a turnaround and announced support to carry out an impact assessment study of the vulnerable waters outside Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja. These are some of the last waters along Norway’s coastline that has not yet been opened for oil drilling.
Parliament election in Norway takes place in September.
“I do recommend the party congress to say yes to an impact assessment study. But it is this congress that will decide. Once the impact assessment study is done, then we will decide whether to launch oil and gas activities in these areas,” Jens Stoltenberg said to NRK Dagsrevyen Friday night.
The support to oil and gas outside Lofoten has provoked strong reactions from local fishermen in the area. The Norwegian fishermen’s association says they are against an impact assessment study because history shows that every time such a study is done oil drilling follows automatically.
“We do not want oil and gas activities at the areas named Nordland VI and VII and Troms II,” says Jan Skjærø, Secretary General of the Fishermen’s Association.
Stoltenberg’s move also triggers strong reactions from the environmental movement.
“Our Prime Minister has today shown us his true face, he has shown that he do not at all care about environmental knowledge,” says Silje Lundberg, head of the organization Nature and Youth.
She is supported by Frederic Hauge in the Bellona Foundation, another organization that for decades has been opposing any oil activities off Lofoten.
“The labor party has now gone on to expose that the Lofoten oil business is based on purely politial decisions. The state’s natural and environmental expertise is being totally overlooked in the zeal to drill oil,” says Hauge.
Results of the seismic data collected from the waters outside Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja some few years ago shows there could be as much as 1.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent in the area. Net value is estimated at about NOK 500 billion (€60 billion), as previously reported by BarentsObserver.