25 years after Exxon Valdez, agency wants to limit Barents oil

Some of the new oil blocks in the Norwegian part of the Barents Sea are located in areas where sea ice may exist in March. Polar bears depend on sea ice when hunting seals.

Norwegian Environmental Agency with strong call against awarding blocks near the ice-edge in the northern Barents Sea.


Several of the blocks suggested in the upcoming 23rd License Round are in areas where it has been sea-ice for periods the last 15 years. That calls for special caution, the Norwegian Environmental Agency says in a statement Friday.

“The northernmost blocks nominated in the southern Barents Sea are too far north and close to areas where there may be ice. We recommend that these blocks should not be awarded before the experiences from the then already allocated blocks in this area is considered,” says Ellen Hambro, the environment agency’s director.

“It is necessary to have a thorough scientific process to set a limit to the ice edge, which also covers the more extreme years,” she continues.

While Shell recently canceled their drilling plans north of Alaska, Norway and Russia are speeding further and further north into Arctic waters with proposed oil drillings. The northernmost of the blocks in the Norway’s 23rd License Round are at 74° 31′ N. No commercial drilling have ever taken place so far north before. In Russian waters, Rosneft and ExxonMobile are teaming up to explore for oil in the Kara Sea, with startup planned for this summer.

Monday this week marked the 25th anniversary for the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. Greenpeace Norway marked the day by sending climbers up the ExxonMobil rig destined to drill in the Russian Arctic. The rig is now located at a yard in Ølen, Norway. Greenpeace argues “it is madness” to drill in Arctic waters. “If something goes wrong, they will be all alone in the far north, with rescue equipment located thousands of kilometers away.”

Also Norway’s environmental agency is concerned about readiness in case of emergency. “Since no joint technical assessment of preparedness in icy waters is made, we question whether the best available technology is good enough for the environment.”

“Climate factors, long distances and low infrastructure, can make action against an oil spill extremely difficult and give little or no reduction of potential environmental impacts,” director Ellen Hambro argues. She is especially concerned about the northernmost blocks. “Especially if the northernmost blocks are awarded it must be ensured that sufficient and appropriate emergency properness equipment is available before drilling starts,” says Ellen Hambro.

The environmental agency posted its statement (in Norwegian) to the Norwegian Ministry of Oil- and Energy on Thursday.