Protect the sea ice; set a southern border against oil drilling in the Arctic!
Norway is planning to drill for oil in the Arctic – but you can help us stop them!
This spring, the Norwegian government will decide whether to give the oil industry access to the marginal ice zone in the Arctic, which polar bears, walruses, narwhals, and beluga whales call home. You can help us to keep the sea ice oil free!
What’s going on?
This spring, the Norwegian government will update the management plan for the Barents Sea, an Arctic ocean area in the north of Norway. As part of this plan, the government will decide which areas to protect and which areas the oil industry will be able to access.
Today, there is one gas facility and one oil platform in the Barents Sea. Both are located off the northern coast of mainland Norway in the south of the Barents Sea, but oil companies are pushing hard to open up new areas even further north in the Arctic, within the marginal ice zone (MiZ). Some companies have already been given access by the government to search and drill for oil within the marginal ice zone.
What is the marginal ice zone?
The marginal ice zone is the transition between the open ocean and sea ice. It is a biological “hotspot,” and one of the most important and unique ecosystems in the Arctic. An oil accident in this area would have potentially fatal consequences.
The marginal ice zone is biologically important because the stable upper layer of the water is mixed by a combination of ice melting and wind. This leads to comparatively brief, but intense, production of phytoplankton (primary production) in the water masses near the ice edge and in the marginal ice zone itself. Zooplankton, fish, marine mammals, and seabirds exploit this and gather at the ice edge. Effectively, the entire marine Arctic food chain relies on the marginal ice zone for its unique nutrition, rich in fats and proteins to help animals stay alive in harsh Arctic conditions.
The marginal ice zone is dynamic and changes its extent with the weather, temperature, and seasons. It partially melts away in summer, causing the ice edge to travel north before expanding south again in the winter/spring. Historically, the sea ice is furthest south in the month of April. Between seasons, the ice edge can shift an average distance equivalent to half the length of mainland Norway. As a result, oil interests argue they can drill for oil within the marginal ice zone during the period when it has partially melted away. If we want to protect vulnerable species and biodiversity in this area, this is not a good idea. The entire ice zone with its unique ecosystem and biological diversity is important and vulnerable to changes during the whole season.
For this reason, it is vital to protect the entire 'zone' in order to protect the wildlife and set a southern border against oil drilling in the Arctic.
The map is from "Energy and climate" and shows the overlap between the petroleum activity and the marginal ice zone in the Barents Sea in the North of Norway. The blue squares is the area where the oil industry has currently got acces to search and drill for oil. The green line shows the southern border of the marginal ice zone. According to the environmental research institutes, it should not be any oil drilling within this border. Some other stakeholders, such as the Norwegian petroleum Directorate would like to give the oil industry access all the way up to the red line. Others would like a "compromise" such as the purple line. The populist party and the biggest oil and gas association representing the oil and supplier companies in Norway dont want a "set" line at all. Instead, they want full access to the northern part of the Barents Sea and the whole ice zone. They argue its safe to drill during the time period when they cant "see/observe" the solid ice.
Why is oil drilling within the marginal ice zone bad?
The marginal ice zone is vulnerable to various pressures for large parts of the year. This is because of high production and biodiversity under the water as far as the light penetrates, and the high density of seabirds, marine mammals, and polar bears. The marginal ice zone and ice-edge habitats in general are also essential for the total annual energy budget of many species endemic to the Arctic, like ivory gulls, ringed seals, polar bears, narwhals, beluga whales, and bowhead whales. Several of these are red-listed, nationally and internationally. These habitats are also important for many migratory species, like kittiwakes and black guillemots. Disturbances to the habitats such as seismic shooting and oil drilling may therefore have fatal consequences for the population levels of many species.
Oil drilling is a risk anywhere, but the risk is much higher in the Arctic due to the long distance from land, harsh weather conditions, icing of equipment, and darkness. Currently, the oil industry does not have the proper equipment to operate safely in Arctic areas and there are no proper solutions for how to remove oil spills from ice.
As global warming is happening at a higher speed in the Arctic, the species living in this area are already under extreme pressure as a result of higher temperatures, melting ice, and ocean acidification. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), most of the world’s reserves of coal, oil, and gas need to stay underground to avoid climate disaster. In other words, exploring for oil in new areas will make it harder to fulfill our obligations under the international Paris climate agreement.
What are we doing to stop oil drilling in the Arctic?
Naturvernforbundet (Friends of the Earth Norway) and a number of other environmental organizations are working hard to stop the plans for oil drilling within the ice zone. Through social media campaigns, lobbying, and information and media work, we are putting pressure on the government to stop the plans.
Together with Young Friends of the Earth Norway and Greenpeace, we are also suing the government for giving access to some oil companies in the northern part of the Barents Sea. With the current climate crisis, we believe that opening up new areas in the Arctic is against the Norwegian constitution, which states that we and future generations have a right to a sustainable and healthy environment. For more information about the lawsuit, please visit our website.
How can you help?
There are many ways to help us stop oil drilling in the Arctic:
Send a message to our politicians and ask them to set a southern border against oil drilling in the Arctic and keep the sea ice oil free. Write to Prime Minister Erna Solberg, the minister of oil and energy Tina Bru, and the leader of the Labor Party (the main opposition party) Jonas Gahr Støre.
- You can reach them by searching for their website on Facebook or taggin them in one of their posts in Instagram using @erna_solberg, @hoyretina and @jonasgahrs
- Support our lawsuit against the Norwegian government: Join our list of volunteer activists!
If you want to get news about the Norwegian climate lawsuit and support it with volunteer activities, please send an e-mail to hl(a)naturvernforbundet.no
I thought oil drilling in Arctic areas in Norway had stopped already?
Unfortunately, most of the Arctic areas in Norway are still under threat. But we did manage to save the Lofoten Islands, one of the most important and valuable areas along the Norwegian coast!
For many years, the oil industry in Norway were pushing hard to gain access to the Lofoten areas in the North of Norway. This is another unique area that needs to be protected due to its rich biodiversity. Luckily, we have managed to keep the area oil free until now due to national and international pressure from people, communities, and fisherfolk all over the world. Now, we are going to stop them from drilling even further north!
The article was last updated on: 21.02.2020