Record interest in Barents Sea oil and gas

Norway's government said on Monday it had seen record interest for new oil and gas prospecting in the Barents Sea, considered an Arctic "promised land" for an industry facing dwindling reserves in the North Sea.

In response to a call to nominate the areas they wanted to see opened to licensing, oil and gas companies suggested 181 blocks — "the highest ever number" — in the Barents Sea, out of the total 228 blocks suggested, the Norwegian petroleum and energy ministry said in a statement.

"Particular interest has been shown in our northernmost sea areas, confirming that the Barents Sea is an exciting and internationally attractive petroleum province," Petroleum and Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe said in the statement.

"This represents major opportunities for the entire region," he added.

The announcement came after Norwegian energy giant Statoil said it had made a major new discovery in the largely unexplored Barents Sea of two major deposits, Skrugard and Havis, believed to hold between 400 and 600 million barrels of oil equivalent.

Along with French groups Total and GDF Suez, Statoil is also already operating the Snoehvit gas field in the Arctic waters, where Italian Eni is also working the Goliat oil field.

The region is considered so promising that the oil and gas industry is considering building a 1,000-kilometre sub-sea pipeline, at an estimated cost of around 25 billion kroner ( $4.24
billion), to connect the new fields with the existing pipeline network further south.

A total of 37 companies had submitted proposals for licensing blocks in Norway's 22nd licensing round, the government said on Monday.

Based on the companies' suggestions, the petroleum and energy ministry aims to offer new licences during the first half of 2013.

Norway is the world's seventh largest oil exporter and ranks second in terms of natural gas exports.

However, its production of the black gold has been steadily declining since its peak in 2001, leading industry players to demand the opening of new prospecting areas in the Arctic, something environmentalists oppose.

According to the US Geological Survey, the Arctic is believed to hold 13 percent of the planet's undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of the undiscovered natural gas.

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NGOs take Norway to European Court over Arctic oil exploration

Two NGOs and six young climate activists have decided to take Norway to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to demand the cancellation of oil permits in the Arctic, Greenpeace announced on Tuesday.

NGOs take Norway to European Court over Arctic oil exploration
Northern Norway. Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash.

It’s the latest turn in a legal tussle between environmental organisations Greenpeace and Young Friends of the Earth Norway on one side and the Norwegian state on the other.

The organisations are demanding the government cancel 10 oil exploration licenses in the Barents Sea awarded in 2016, arguing it was unconstitutional.

Referring to the Paris Agreement, which seeks to limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the organisations claim that the oil licenses violated article 112 of Norway’s constitution, guaranteeing everyone the right to a healthy environment.”

The six activists, alongside Greenpeace Nordic and Young Friends of the Earth Norway, hope that the European Court of Human Rights will hear their case and find that Norway’s oil expansion is in breach of human rights,” Greenpeace said in a statement.

In December, Norway’s Supreme Court rejected the claim brought by the organisations, their third successive legal defeat.

READ MORE: Norway sees oil in its future despite IEA’s warnings¬†

While most of the judges on the court agreed that article 112 could be invoked if the state failed to meet its climate and environmental obligations– they did not think it was applicable in this case.

The court also held that the granting of oil permits was not contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights, in part because they did not represent “a real and immediate risk” to life and physical integrity.

“The young activists and the environmental organisations argue that this judgment was flawed, as it discounted the significance of their environmental constitutional rights and did not take into account an accurate assessment of the consequences of climate change for the coming generations,” Greenpeace said.

On Friday, the Norwegian government unveiled a white paper on the country’s energy future, which still includes oil exploration despite a warning from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The IEA recently warned that all future fossil fuel projects must be scrapped if the world is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Norwegian case is an example of a global trend in which climate activists are increasingly turning to courts to pursue their agenda.