May 11 (Bloomberg) -- Norwegian opposition leader Erna Solberg, who’s leading in opinion polls ahead of next year’s election, is willing to open contested areas off the Lofoten and Vesteraalen islands for oil exploration if elected as head of the country’s next government.
A Conservative Party-led government would be open to studying the effects of oil exploration and production on the areas off the northwest coast of Norway, the 51-year-old party leader said yesterday in an interview in Bergen.
“There’s a great consensus on Norwegian oil policy, the biggest difference is our position on the opening of Lofoten and Vesteraalen,” she said. “These are very promising areas and it takes a long time from when you begin until you can start production.”
Statoil ASA, Norway’s largest oil and gas producer, had lobbied for the areas to be opened up before Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Labor-led government postponed a planned environmental impact study off the Arctic areas until after the next parliamentary election, scheduled for September 2013.
The waters off Lofoten and Vesteraalen contain unique cold-water coral reefs and provide breeding grounds for wildlife ranging from cod, haddock and halibut to seals and sperm and killer whales, according to the World Wildlife Fund. The archipelago is also home to some of Europe’s largest seabird colonies, the environmental group said.
Deposits of oil and gas in the area may contain as much as 3.5 billion barrels of oil, according to industry group KonKraft, which represents companies and the LO labor union. Norway, the seventh-largest oil producer, is moving farther north in an effort to boost reserves as output from aging North Sea deposits dwindles.
Companies including Statoil, Lundin Petroleum AB and Total SA last year made commercial discoveries of oil and gas that are the biggest in almost 40 years. The Johan Sverdrup find in the North Sea may hold as much as 3.3 billion barrels of oil equivalent, while the Skrugard-Havis discovery could contain 600 million barrels of oil equivalent.
“We did find a lot of oil last year,” Solberg said. “The Norwegian shelf is very attractive. But having a positive attitude toward developing these areas would help make it even more attractive.”
While her party doesn’t have any specific plan to offer tax breaks to the oil industry, “we have a more pragmatic position” than the current government, Solberg said, without providing further details.
Solberg’s Conservatives last month overtook Stoltenberg’s Labor as Norway’s most popular party, according to a Gallup opinion poll for TV2. Some 30 percent of voters backed the Conservatives, versus 29 percent for Labor, according to a poll of 950 people from April 26 to May 2. The margin of error was 1.4 percentage points to 2.4 percentage points.
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