Look to Norway for good eco-standards, or?

Lars Haltbrekken is head of the Norwegian Society for the Conservation of Nature (Friends of the Earth Norway).

“Ship-to-ship reloading of oil in icy-waters outside Kirkenes is a great example that Norway jeopardizes nature by lowering safety standards in our race for industrialization of the north,” says Lars Haltbrekken, head of the Norwegian Society for the conservation of Nature.


“Our Russian partners always highlight the importance of eco-standards in Norway. If we achieve poor requirements at home; how difficult wouldn’t it then be for environmental organizations in Russia to demand best safety standards in the north,” asked Lars Haltbrekken in his speech at the Kirkenes Conference on Thursday.

The conference gathers politicians, businesspeople and other stakeholders in the Norwegian, Russian borderland.

Lars Haltbrekken says the Norwegian Environmental Agency originally said no to the reloading of oil outside Kirkenes if sea-ice were closer than one kilometer from the tankers. Icy-waters jeopardize safety the agency argued.

After being appealed, the Ministry of Environment overruled the first decision and gave the company dealing with the oil, Norterminal, the responsibility to their own review of when and if safety would be in play due to ice on the water near the tankers while reloading, according to Haltbrekken.

Bøkfjorden, where the ship-to-ship operations take place is one of Norway’s specially protected National Salmon fjords. The fjord is home to eider and other seabirds, many of them staying over winter in the fjord, Lars Haltbrekken informs.

“Tine Sundtoft, Norway’s Minister of Environment says this is a balanced solution, we call it a clear weakening of the environmental standards,” Lars Haltbrekke said and continues:

“The reason why such operations should not take place when there is ice nearby is because oil spill response equipment simply is not very effective in ice.”

Norwegian Society for the conservation of Nature has for more than 20 years cooperated with environmental organizations all over Russia. For Arctic oil safety, Haltbrekken says it will not be easy to argue that Russian oil companies should have high safety standards at a time when Norway lower its standards for nature protection in the north.

“The risk of an environmental catastrophe with Russian ships along the Norwegian coast is dramatically reduced with Norterminals reloading in Kirkenes,” writes Jacon Stolt-Nielsen, CEO of Norterminal in an OpEd posted in the regional newspaper Finnmarken.

Stolt-Nielsen argues that Kirkenes is the very best location in Eastern Finnmark for reloading of oil. Until a land-based larger terminal is built by 2018-2019, ship-to-ship reloading is the best solution.

The company assures that required oil skimmers and other oil spill response system and stand-by personnel is in place. 

All of the oil reloaded in Bøkfjorden outside Kirkenes comes from Russian onshore fields in the Nenets area. Oil is transported from the fields by pipe to the Varandey terminal, loaded over to ice-classed tankers and sailed to Kirkenes. Because ice-class tankers are way more expensive than standard double-hull tankers, it is profitable to reload to larger tankers that brings the oil to the market, mainly in central Europe.

The Varandey terminal is operated by Lukoil, a privately own oil-company that earlier this week was told by President Vladimir Putin that they might be awarded licenses offshore in the Arctic. Until now, offshore licenses have only been granted to state-own companies like Rosneft and Gazprom Neft.