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Skeptical about oil drilling on Svalbard

A Norwegian oil company will test for oil in a national park in Svalbard.


On Tuesday, August 16th, the so-called fairing business will be held at the Bergmesteren in Trondheim. The Norwegian oil company Norwegian Petroleum Group, by its subsidiary Northlight Oil, has applied for a total of five areas, or targets, in the outlet of Van Mijenfjorden, on the west side of Spitsbergen.

The company has high hopes for the Bellsund field, where they registered inventions five years ago. Thus, they have the first right to seek exclusion. If targets are awarded, the company has the exclusive right to operate in the area. However, in the case of sample drilling for oil, this must be approved after a new application.

The protection area in which Bellsund is located was expanded on 1 January 2004, as has been seen in the area within the protected area. The law states that new goals cannot be awarded in protected areas.

Received no before

Asbjørn Skotte, board member and largest shareholder of Norwegian Petroleum Group ASA (NPG), has operated with oil exploration at Svalbard for 20 years. He is uncertain about the outcome of Tuesday's sentencing business.

- It is almost five years since we registered discoveries in Bellsund. When the Mining Act states that new mining rights cannot be granted in protected areas, we must then have a legal discussion on it, whether this applies to discoveries or objectives. It was only last year that the environmental regime was changed, says Skotte. He's got no before. The company has three targets on the island of Hopen, where they were refused test drilling in 2003. Nor did an appeal to the Directorate for Nature Management succeed.

NPG is the only company that currently has an application for dossier. A total of 17 sample wells have been drilled in Svalbard, in the period between 1963 and 1994. None of these have yielded promising discoveries of oil. All the former wells have been on land. Bellsund can therefore be the first well to be drilled at sea.


Rasmus Hansson in WWF opposes sample drilling in protected areas on Svalbard.

- Are there any good arguments for trial drilling on the archipelago at all?

- No. The overall goal here must be to think strategically. Maybe we can secure one place in the world where knowledge and untouched nature are the driving forces. This should be an excellent basis for both business and political presence. Instead, Norway uses the Russians' humming and dissatisfaction as an argument for their own business. And Norway pisses in its pants every time the Russians hum. If we had a hint of our own will, it might come to pass one day that the Russians also have a great interest in limiting their activities. Today, they are pouring money into mining operations, says Hansson.

So maybe we should shut down coal mining as well?

- Operations are no longer a political tool, exclusively economic. The day we no longer make money on this, if maybe 10-15 years, then we are left with only the jobs. And we know how difficult it is to get government jobs closed, Hansson points out. Then he thinks the requirements will come that the company will be allowed to expand the business to also apply to the protected areas that surround the mines.


SP leader Åslaug Haga has demanded a separate minister for the High North, but is not initially dissatisfied with the current administration.

- We believe that the current administration works well in relation to Svalbard, but there is still no doubt that this is a regime under pressure. Precisely for this reason, we must be offensive in showing that the regime actually works, both in terms of the management of natural resources, and that the archipelago can be exposed to over-taxation, if other solutions than the current regime are pushed forward, says Haga.

- And when it comes to business interests?

- We can not fire up with all kinds of activities on the archipelago. We are skeptical about whether it is wise to allow test drilling for oil, precisely because these are politically sensitive areas, and environmental much sensitive areas. I am therefore very in doubt whether this is correct, Haga concludes.


SV's environmental policy spokesperson, Hallgeir Langeland, recently argued that Norway should close down its coal mining operations on Svalbard, from a climate policy perspective.

- Norway contributes with its operations in Svalbard to increase the amount of coal in the European market, and thereby reduce the price of coal power. Later, the politicians complain that one must import this polluting force, Langeland points out.

- Now there is an application on the table for targets for possible test drilling for oil; should we at all bother to process such applications?

- Of course not. But with the American speculation that these areas may contain large parts of the world's remaining petroleum resources, there will be a lot of focus on this. And as usual, Norway is responsive to American inquiries. Especially when we now have Conservative ministers both in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in Oil and Energy, Langeland points out.

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