Norway is working on a creative way to limit oil and gas drilling in the offshore areas under its control: it’s considering redefining the “ice edge” that determines how far north fossils can go to pursue exploration activities.
“The ice edge is a legally drawn boundary that is meant to approximate the constantly changing southern fringe of the permanent ice sheet,” Reuters explains, in a post republished by the Globe and Mail. “Anything north of that legal line is off-limits to oil drilling under Norwegian law.”
You might think that posed a problem at a time when the Barents Sea has lost half of its ice cover in the last 40 years, and is on track to be entirely ice-free by 2050. “However, instead of redrawing the line further north to reflect the retreating ice sheet, the ruling coalition may move it further south as it responds to political pressure to extend environmental protection of the Arctic.”
Reuters says a new demarcation will go to parliament for approval in April.
“It’s one of the difficult issues,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told the news agency. “The ice cap is moving, it’s been moving upwards…You can’t measure it every year, so you have to put the line, and have a discussions where that line would have to be.”
Solberg added that “if you take it too far down, then it would cross some areas that are already being explored.”
So far, an advisory group of Norwegian research institutions and state agencies has presented Solberg’s centre-right minority government with two options: move the line farther north, to the point where sea ice appeared 30% of the time during the peak month of April between 1988 and 2007, or protect the Arctic environment by drawing the line where sea ice probability is only 0.5%.
“The sea ice influences the ecosystem that lies further south,” said Norwegian Polar Institute Senior Adviser Cecilie von Quillfeldt, “and this is why some think that it should be further south than it has been before.”
But that option “would be problematic for oil and gas companies, Norway’s largest industry,” Reuters says, citing the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association (NOG). “It would affect at least eight oil exploration licences operated by Equinor, Aker BP, and Spirit Energy, majority owned by Britain’s Centrica.” It would also close in on the 440-million-barrel Wisting offshore oil discovery, which Equinor and several other fossils have plans to develop.
The fossil association is proposing a third option, what it calls a “dynamic” boundary based on observable sea ice in place of “a static and politically determined line on the map”.
Reuters says legislators seem to be looking for a solution that places the boundary farther south, without getting in the way of fossil operations. “However, pro-green lawmakers in all parties are enjoying popular support and could be successful in pushing for the ice edge definition that goes the most south,” the news agency notes.
“Waters close to the ice sheet are important feeding grounds for many Arctic species, from tiny zooplankton to polar bears and whales,” Reuters adds. “At the same time, the Barents Sea may contain two-thirds of the oil and gas yet to be discovered off Norway, according to Norwegian official estimates.”