In 1895, Norwegian Polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen made it to the 86th latitude, further north than any man before. Now, new symbols of Norwegian power stand ready to move into the same icy waters. Oil rigs will soon start an unprecedented drilling campaign in the area.
The 22nd License Round announced this week by Minister of Petroluem and Energy Ola Borten Moe includes as many as 72 blocks in the Barents Sea, several of them near the polar ice ridge.
And Norwegian Arctic drilling will not stop with the 22nd License Round. According to Borten Moe, his ministry is ready to take it all the way to the 84th latitude, the northernmost point in Norwegian waters. In his meeting this week with high-ranking international politicians, including U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, as well as a number of powerful oil company representatives, the Norwegian minister made it very clear what he intends to do in the area.
“These areas are just as Norwegian as the Trondheim Fjord”, Borten Moe stressed, adding that his political party, the agrarian Center Party, in its work promotes the slogan “take the whole country in use”, thus signalling that also the northernmost Arctic waters will be exploited. “We are not going to the 84th latitude tomorrow […] the development I am describing has a 25-30 year time frame”, he said, newspaper VG reports.
For environmentalists, the signals from the Norwegian government are bad news. “This is bad for the climate, the High North and environmental management regimes”, leader of Bellona Frederic Hauge says to BarentsObserver. “The plans for oil drilling are depressive reading and include significant risks”, he underlines.
A recent report from the Norwegian Institute Marine Research includes the same warnings. According to the Institute, as many as 74 of the 86 blocks included in the 22nd License Round should not be opened because of environmental concerns. Also the Norwegian Climate and Pollution Agency warns against the drilling, which if fears will reach a magnitude way beyond the capacity of current safety and preparedness systems. The Directorate for Nature Management warns against drilling near the ice edge and in areas with sea bird colonies.
Meanwhile, oil-hungry Norway is already underway with its mapping of the Arctic waters. According to VG, the Norwegian Petroluem Directorate both in 2001 and 2005 collected seismic data from area up to the 85th latitude with the help of an icebreaker. This summer, the same Directorate is reportedly supporting financially an expedition, which is to map the geology in the areas north of Svalbard, E24.no reports.
The areas in question could turn out to be highly rich in hydrocarbons. According to ConocoPhillips CEO Ryan Lance, the Norwegian waters near the North Pole are the most promising. At the Arctic Energy meeting with Ola Borten Moe, Lance showed a map, which displayed the estimated resources in the area.