Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg rejected a call by the nation’s oil minister to start drilling in restricted areas off the environmentally sensitive Lofoten islands this year.
“I absolutely can’t imagine that there will be oil activity in the opened areas of Nordland VI this fall,” Prime Minister Stoltenberg said today in a debate at the Oslo-based parliament, referring to an exploration area that has been put on hold for the past decade.
Petroleum and Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe said in November that he favored opening up that area as soon as this year, while he also advocated keeping a ban on other disputed blocks off the Lofoten and Vesteraalen islands until at least 2017. Stoltenberg’s coalition is divided over whether to open the restricted areas, which according to industry group KonKraft could hold as much as 3.4 billion barrels of oil equivalent.
Pressure is increasing to open the area for exploration as crude output in western Europe’s largest oil producer has fallen by about 50 percent in the past decade.
The government’s junior partners in 2011 were able to postpone a decision on starting an impact study, a formal step needed to open new blocks to the industry, until after September elections. Stoltenberg’s Labor Party last week revived tensions within the government by signalling it would favour starting an impact study after the election. Leading opposition parties, which according to polls could take power in September, have said they want to open the areas as soon as possible.
The environmentally sensitive areas are home to unique cold-water coral reefs, provide breeding grounds for wildlife ranging from fish to whales and is a place where some of Europe’s largest seabird colonies gather.
Borten Moe is a member of the Center Party, which is split on opening the areas for oil exploration.
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