OSLO, March 28 Norway should not award oil and
gas exploration blocks further north in the Arctic Barents Sea
and should withdraw more than a dozen blocks from the current
licencing round, the Norwegian Environment Agency said on
The agency, which advises the government but cannot block
its decisions, said more rigorous assessment of ice conditions
was needed, including consideration of years when the polar ice
cap might expand further.
"It is necessary to have a thorough scientific process to
set a limit to the ice edge, which also covers the more extreme
years," Ellen Hambro, the agency's director said in a statement.
"The northernmost blocks nominated in the southern Barents Sea
... are located in areas where there may be ice."
"Before such a limit is set, no blocks further north in the
Barents Sea south should be awarded," she added
Speaking to business daily Dagens Naeringsliv, however, she
expressed doubt that the government would take their position
"I don't believe that this recommendation will change
anything. We have been doing oil business in the Barents sea for
30 years, so moving slightly north is not really new," she told
Norway proposed last month to award 61 blocks in its new
areas licencing round, including 54 in the Barents Sea, as the
energy sector moves northward in search of new finds as the
polar ice cap retreats.
The maximum ice, usually reached in March, has stayed well
clear of the proposed blocks in recent years and this year's top
ice extent will be among the lowest of record with the Barents
ice particularly low, the National Snow and Ice Data Center
Norway's Statoil has been moving northward rapidly
with an extensive exploration campaign in the area. Austria's
OMV made the northernmost discovery last year and
Italy's ENI plans to start up Norway's first Barents
oil project this year.
Greenpeace, which calls Statoil an "Arctic aggressor", said
this year's exploration plans were its most dangerous foray yet,
threatening Bear Island, a wildlife sanctuary and occasionally
home to polar bears.
(Reporting by Balazs Koranyi and Camilla Knudsen, editing by