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Norway updates Arctic ice map in boost to oil exploration

21/01/2015 by Sharon Shahzad


Norway wants to redefine the contours of the Arctic ice edge, the government announced Tuesday in a controversial decision that would further open the Barents Sea to oil and gas exploration.

Within hours of the decision, the oil ministry offered companies 57 blocks, nearly all in the Barents Sea, some in the most northern waters ever opened for exploration. A 2013 agreement between the minority government and its centre-right allies prohibits all activities in the rich and fragile ecosystem at the ice edge.

However global warming has seen the ice retreat further north fuelling debate on where its edge is now located. "It's important to have updated knowledge on where the fragile areas are located," Norway's Minister of Climate and Environment Tine Sundtoft said in a statement.

"Therefore I've asked the Norwegian Polar Institute to update their calculations." The new sea ice map is based on satellite data from between 1984 and 2013, replacing a current definition that uses material collected over two decades up to 1989.

This allows the government to argue that the new oil concessions are located far from the sea ice, whereas by the old definition a number of blocks would have been off limits.

When objections over drilling in the area erupted on the back of political disagreements late last year, the government decided to delay the licensing bid.

Norway's minority government will need to seek approval for the northward expansion from the parliament.

Members of two centre-right parties -- whose support is necessary for a majority -- said on Tuesday that they opposed the re-drawing of the boundaries, while environmental groups accused the government of pandering to the oil industry.

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