Norway Government Loses in Drive to Expand Arctic Oil Boundary

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The Norwegian government’s attempt to push oil exploration farther into the Arctic was halted by a majority in parliament.

Parliament, backed by two key government support parties, on Wednesday declined to go forward with a plan to redefine where the edge of the polar ice cap starts.

“Parliament rejected the government’s proposed definition of the polar ice edge, and said the lines of the region can’t be re-drawn ad-hoc,” Green Party spokesman Knut Falk Qvigstad said. “An overhaul of the integrated management plan would be necessary before the law could be changed, which could take as long as five years.”

The government said the framework for the 23rd licensing round, which included 54 blocks in the Barents Sea and was praised by the oil industry, remains unchanged. The ruling coalition maintains that the edge has moved north as the ice cap melts, reducing the risk it could reach into some of the blocks the government was opening.

“This framework also secures that there will be no petroleum activity by the ice edge in this parliamentary period,” Oil and Energy Minister Tord Lien said in a statement.

The largest opposition party, Labor, also said that the framework for the 23rd round remaind unchanged, according to a statement.

The changes to the definition of the ice edge faced a battle in parliament, where the minority government depends on the support of the Christian Democrats and Liberals. The two support parties last year urged the Conservative-led government to withdraw as many as 15 blocks from the round because they are too close to the polar ice cap, a sensitive ecosystem supporting animals from polar bears to fish and birds.

Eldar Saetre, chief executive officer at Statoil ASA, said in January that the licensing round was “very positive” and that the northernmost blocks are “important” since they are “among the most prospective.”

Even as a drop in oil prices makes Arctic exploration less attractive, Norway is betting on success in the Barents Sea, thought to hold more than 40 percent of its undiscovered resources. The Nordic country’s oil output, still western Europe’s biggest, has been more than halved since a 2000 record.

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