Snøhvit: Reasons for Bellona’s opposition

Publish date: August 29, 2002

The Snøhvit Field in the Barents Sea is about to be developed. The Barents Sea is one of the world’s most precious and vulnerable sea areas, and furthermore one of the last natural areas in Europe which is not yet depleted by human intervention and pollution.

The Barents Sea – one of our last wildernesses
The sea areas just outside Sørøya in the Barents Sea are some of the richest with respect to seabirds. In total, 26 species with a population of international value, and 8 species with a population of national value can be found in this area. On the north-west side of Sørøya several bird cliffs with between 10,000 – 100,000 nesting birds can be found.

Snøhvit is likely to become the prelude for development of oil and gas in the Barents Sea. When oil production is commenced we will witness discharges of chemicals, heavy metals and oil remains. Presently, little research has been made on such discharges. There is reason to believe that the chemical combinations and the oil being spilt during production will have negative effects on the biological life in the sea. As the Barents Sea is the most important breeding area to a number of commercial fish species, it is obvious that this type of pollution will stand in harsh conflict to the need for clean breeding area.

Bit by bit
So far the oil activities in the area have only consisted of test drillings, and no impact study has been made. In Bellona’s view, the conditions and scope of the development and production from Snøhvit will be of fundamental importance to any further development of petroleum activities in the northern areas. Based on this, it is important that that the consequences are thoroughly clarified and that the development of Snøhvit is viewed in an overall and long-term perspective, something which has not yet been done. Experiences from the Norwegian Sea and the North Sea are not directly transferable to the Barents Sea. Petroleum production in the Barents Sea presents us with new challenges due to aspects such as rough climate conditions, polar nights, slow decomposition of oil and chemicals as well as a long time of regeneration for the Arctic flora and fauna after damaged.

The fact that possible and estimated consequences of future oil extraction have not been included in the study on the development of Snøhvit, should in Bellona’s view be considered a considerable shortcoming. Statoil (the developer of the field) concludes with: “oil extraction will be profitable at this stage”. There is mentioned a second phase of the Snøhvit development, but what it will involve or when it will commence is however not discussed.

A future oil extraction will be dimensioning for both the conditions and the preparedness connected to the development and production at the field. To develop a regional infrastructure, oil finds in the surrounding areas and the ongoing technology development within the petroleum sector is all factors that make oil production all the more likely shortly after the commencement of gas production. Considerable oil finds have been made on the Goliat Field close to Snøhvit. If Snøhvit is to be developed, it is increasingly probable that future oil and gas extractions will be performed at other fields in the Barents Sea.

Before Snøhvit or other fields are being developed, it should be decided upon whether petroleum production in the Barents Sea is justifiable.

New studies
All professional environmental institutions have demanded further reports on the environmental consequences of oil and gas extraction in the Barents Sea. A comprehensive impact study of the Barents Sea has not yet been made, something that was also stressed in the Sem-declaration.

A strategic impact study, a collective ecosystems-based administration plan and a sufficient surveillance programme for early notification of environmental damage should be made. The impact study should focus on an all-year oil production in the northern sea areas from Lofoton and northwards, rather than merely focusing on test drilling which has been the case with former impact studies.

Petroleum-free areas
The establishment of petroleum-free areas should be considered, and in doing so areas such as Lofoten and northwards, the Barents Sea included, should be discussed. Petroleum-free areas are areas that are protected from petroleum and gas activities. This protection should however not obstruct harvesting of the sea’s renewable resources. Geological inspections, petrophysical inspections, test drillings or other preparations for extraction should not be carried out in the petroleum-free areas. Nor should any other test activities or extraction of oil or gas be carried out.

The establishment of petroleum-free areas would imply a new type of protection in Norway, however, comparable to some of the existing action plans. Protected water systems are guaranteed protection through defined action plans passed by the Norwegian Parliament. Some natural communities and biotopes are protected with authorisation in the Norwegian Nature Conservation Act.

Poor resource management
According to the current administration of petroleum resources, considerations of environment and fishery are not being made when new political approaches are defined.

Concerning basic environmental considerations that should be made before an oil or gas field is opened for development, see above.

LNG – an environmental hazard
The planned plant in Hammerfest, is going to produce LNG. LNG is natural gas that is cooled down to liquid form.

It has been claimed that LNG is the most environmentally friendly hydrocarbon. This is, however, an undocumented and incorrect statement. Condensation of LNG requires energy, which in turn causes added emissions of CO2 during the production process compared to regular natural gas. Used to fuel public buses, LNG is one of the least satisfying alternatives with respect to emissions of climate gases, as it causes roughly the same amount of emissions as a diesel bus. Furthermore, transportation of natural gas through pipelines is much more efficient than similar transportation of LNG.

Dispersed emissions, which is one consequence of LNG being applied by many small users, calls for a much more complicated network for CO2 handling, and hence results in a more expensive gas. This is particularly evident if one is to open for distribution of natural gas to private houses, which would make CO2 accumulation impossible and lead to increased net emissions of CO2.

The new plant in Hammerfest will lead to a 2% increase in Norway’s total emission of CO2, which consequently will have to be cut somewhere else.

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