It has been reported that Norway’s Government is to open up a new area of Arctic water for oil and gas exploration. On Wednesday 18th May, the nation broke more than two decades of tradition to award new licences in a bid to develop new long-term drilling prospects. Norwegian Minister of Petroleum and Energy Tord Lien said: “Today we are opening a new chapter in the history of the Norwegian petroleum industry.”
Norway is currently the region’s largest producer of oil. In the latest licence offering, 13 companies, including ConocoPhillips, Chevron Corp and Statoil SA, have been offered ten drilling licences. The three areas set for exploration are located in the Arctic Barents Sea, a region that has caused some dispute with Russia in the past.
Talking of the possible opportunities in store for the energy industry, Lien said: “The Barents Sea offers great new opportunities. The industry’s interest in new acreage shows that the Norwegian continental shelf remains attractive. The potential is huge.”
The latest move by the Norwegian Government has largely been attributed to falling oil prices. With weaker oil prices, many energy firms have had to slash their investments, often by billions of dollars. However, the Government hopes that new activity in Arctic waters could help stabilise offshore drilling operations for years to come. New fields might also be able to offset some of the dropping production levels being experienced by aging North Sea areas.
Since 2000, the oil output from Norway has halved and, as a result, taken a severe toll on the Government’s income. Between 2013 and 2015, the industry lost 25,000 jobs, with the overall oil-related labour force shrinking by 11 per cent.
The new licences haven’t come without a certain amount of opposition, particularly from environmental groups. Many people have cited the potential threat of possible oil spills, with Arctic wildlife likely to be affected as a result. There are also worries about greenhouse gas emissions from larger oil and gas volumes being burned. Head of Greenpeace Norway Truls Gulowsen said: “We cannot risk a Deepwater Horizon in the Barents Sea,” making referencing to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that occurred in 2010. Gulowsen also said that Norway was one of almost 200 counties to sign an agreement in Paris to prevent global temperatures rising by 1.5°C. “In such a scenario there is no room for Arctic oil exploration,” he said.
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