Norway’s government has extended a 30-year moratorium on oil production on its Arctic shelf until 2013 under pressure from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the environmental organization said on Monday.
“The moratorium for Lofoten and Vesteralen [islands] in Norway’s northern arctic waters is part of an overall management plan for the Barents Sea that is aimed at protecting important areas for fish, sea birds, seals and whales,” the WWF said on its website, adding that the ban would last until 2013.
The moratorium is part of WWF-supported campaigns already under way in Alaska and Russia to protect fisheries and communities.
The wildlife protection campaigns are based on studies showing that oil returns in the long term would be less than returns from well-protected biological resources.
“It is complete madness to trade in a sustainable fishery that could continue to accommodate the interests of both people and nature for generations for a few years of quick and dirty profits from oil,” said Rasmus Hanssen, Secretary General of WWF Norway, according to the website.
The organization has long called for Russia to follow Norway’s suit and protect its biological resources from oil company expansion. In particular, a recent Rosneft-BP deal to jointly extract oil from the Arctic shelf has raised serious concerns among environmentalists. The companies plan to start drilling in 2015.
Wed, 16 Jun 2010 12:00p.m. By Dan Satherley -Conservation group WWF has called for a suspension of oil drilling in the Arctic until the region can “deal with the risks”.
Representatives of the world’s northernmost countries are meeting this week in Vorkuta, Russia, to discuss the hot-button issue in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.
Newly-implemented guidelines do not go far enough according to WWF, which says The Arctic Council needs to bring a halt to drilling altogether.
“It is time for the Arctic states to recognise that offshore oil drilling with current technology and response capability poses unacceptable risks in the Arctic,” says Aleksey Knizhnikov, WWF Russia.
“Norway and the United States have already taken the first step, by putting off any further Arctic offshore drilling until an investigation into the Gulf disaster is over.”
Despite the delay, Norway still plans to open up further territory for oil exploration, as does Russia and Denmark (in its Greenland territory).
WWF Australia’s Greg Bourne, an ex-BP manager, says that despite the best technology available, BP has been unable to stop oil gushing into the Atlantic.
“To even conceive of being able to control a similar event in the Arctic would be a triumph of hope over experience and reason,” he says. “The consequences of such an event in the cold climate would lead to a persistence of ecological damage over many decades.”
Here in New Zealand, Energy Minister Gerry Brownlee says New Zealand’s petroleum sector could expand “tenfold” with offshore drilling. Earlier this month, a permit was issued to Brazilian company Petrobras.
Both WWF and the Green Party have called for a moratorium on offshore drilling in New Zealand until it’s known how to prevent a Deepwater Horizon-style event here. Earlier this month, the Government announced a review of New Zealand’s ability to cope with an offshore oil disaster, but not until after the Petrobras announcement.
“Whilst a review is welcome, the Government is clearly putting economic development before consideration of the risks to the environment in issuing a new permit for oil exploration to Petrobras,” said WWF NZ’s Chris Howe.
“WWF believes there should be a moratorium granted on all new oil and gas exploration in New Zealand waters, at least until the review is complete.”
The legal instruments relevant to protecting the Arctic’s marine environment are numerous, yet also incoherent and incomplete say the World Wildlife Fund.
The environmental organisation considers the existing framework to be too focused either on individual issues or individual places to adequately cover the entire region. It also fails to take into account the cumulative effects of different offshore activities, such as fishing and oil and gas extraction.
A number of gaps appear to have emerged. These include the fact that the Arctic Council cannot impose legally binding obligations on its members, permanent participants or observers and it is not an operational body. It does not systematically evaluate whether its guidelines are being followed. It also has no independent funding and no permanent secretariat.
In short, the legal instruments do not provide sufficient protection for the arctic marine environment and do not provide for sustainable ecosystem based management of the Arctic Ocean. Also, every Arctic state just does its own thing, which has led to inconsistency of the national legislation, according to Dr Tatiana Saksina of the WWF.
However, the corrective options so far appear to be either sectoral based improvements such as adjusting existing fisheries agreements, adjusting existing international frameworks such as the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, or reforming the Arctic Council, a meeting place for the eight arctic states and indigenous peoples of the Arctic.
In WWF’s view, all these options either fall short of providing adequate protection for the arctic marine environment or are difficult to achieve.
The WWF commissioned three reports by international legal experts Timo Koivurova and Erik Molenaar. These say that given the pace of change, it is difficult to see how the Arctic and its ocean could be sustainably and coherently managed without an institution with the legal and political mandate to carry out the necessary changes to ensure the arctic ecosystem is protected. Rules alone, especially non-legally binding ones, are hardly enough to govern the new sea emerging from the sea ice. Therefore the authors conclude that one of the best options is to adopt a new multilateral agreement for the protection of the arctic marine environment and ecosystem based management of its resources.
A new, legally binding international framework agreement covering the entire marine Arctic across all sectors would allow for management on an ecosystem level, which is the best tool for ensuring sustainable management of marine resources.
Such an agreement should ensure protection and preservation of the ecological processes in the arctic marine environment, long term conservation and sustainable and equitable use of marine resources, socio-economic benefits for present and future generations, in particular for indigenous peoples, and action to address the unprecedented changes the Arctic is facing.
Indeed, the new Arctic Sea emerging from the melting ice urgently needs a regional regime tailor made for arctic conditions developed under the overarching framework of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).