Environmental groups including WWF and Greenpeace demanded that Norway withdraw all oil-exploration blocks proposed for the next licensing round because many are too close to the edge of the polar ice cap.
“The ice-edge zone is a unique area that hosts vulnerable processes that are essential for life in the Arctic,” the seven non-governmental groups said in a letter to the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy. “The area is already under increasing pressure from global warming and ocean acidification, and an oil spill could have catastrophic consequences.”
Norway, western Europe’s biggest oil and gas producer, is pushing into the Arctic Barents Sea in a bid to find new resources to compensate for declining output from aging North Sea fields.
The government has proposed offering 61 blocks in its 23rd licensing round, 34 of which are in a new area of the Barents Sea formerly disputed by Russia. Another 20 are located in already opened areas off Norway’s northern tip, and the rest are in the Norwegian Sea. A final decision on which blocks to offer is due in the second half of the year.
Four of the blocks, in the untouched part of the Barents Sea, would be the northernmost ever awarded by Norway. Even more are located beyond the 2003 limit reached by the polar ice cap, which expands and retreats with the seasons.
The Arctic sea ice, defined by the U.S. National Snow & Ice Data Center as the area with an ice concentration of at least 15 percent, is usually at its maximum in March and minimum in September. The ice-edge supports life including fish and mammals thanks to the plankton that feed on algae that grows there, according to WWF.
The NGOs want Norway to at least withdraw all blocks located north of a 100 kilometer (60-mile) buffer zone from the ice edge’s maximum reach during the last 30 years. That would exclude 46 of the 61 blocks. Norway currently bans drilling closer than 50 kilometers to the ice edge’s actual location between Dec. 15 and June 15.
Eight blocks should be excluded and that seasonal bans on drilling should be applied to an additional 15, the Norwegian Polar Institute said in a letter sent to the ministry in a public consultation which ended today. The Norwegian Environment Agency last week said 28 blocks should be excluded from the licensing round, half of which are in the new area called the Barents Sea South-East.