Norway’s ruling Labor Party agreed on a first step in a process that could open environmentally sensitive waters off the northern Lofoten islands to oil and gas exploration.
Labor’s national delegates voted 194 to 104 in favor of allowing a so-called impact study of petroleum activity in the restricted areas in the next legislative period from 2013 to 2017 at a congress today, Aftenposten reported.
The government, which also includes the Center Party and the Socialist Left, is divided over opening the restricted blocks in the Norwegian Sea. Labor’s junior partners were in 2011 able to postpone a decision on a study until after this year’s election, and reiterated their opposition at party meetings this year.
The opposition Conservative Party, which is leading Labor in polls, favors opening Lofoten, Vesteraalen and Senja, which are home to unique cold-water coral reefs, welcome some of Europe’s largest seabird colonies and provide breeding grounds for wildlife ranging from fish to whales, to the industry.
Oil and gas companies, including 67 percent state-owned Statoil ASA, have been lobbying for a chance to tap resources that could reach as much as 3.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent according to industry group KonKraft. Statoil has argued it is urgent to open the areas to replace reserves as Norway’s crude production is expected to fall for a 13th consecutive year to less than half a 2000 peak.