Who’s more evil? Russia steps up turf war, says Norway’s new oil drilling sites near Bjørnøya violate Svalbard Treaty


Norway, while getting huffy about a Russian politician’s visit violating the spirit of the Svalbard Treaty, was the guilty party breaking it by opening three new drilling areas near the archipelago, according to a protest filed by Russia.

The complaint asserts the so-called “Svalbard Square” in the Barents Sea, about 200 kilometers southeast of Bjørnøya, where drill-ing began last week, are within Svalbard’s continental shelf and therefore off-limits under the treaty, which prohibits economic activities such as oil drilling and production.

The “sharp diplomatic note” from the Russian embassy in Norway was sent March 3, before a controversial visit to Svalbard by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozan, who is on a list of persons sanctioned by Norway and other western countries due to their involvement in the Ukraine crisis, according to Verdens Gang.

A similar objection was filed earlier this year over two additional blocks in the Barents Sea, which Russia subsequently claimed was ignored by Norway.

“We have offered the Norwegian side bilateral consultations to discuss the regulation of petroleum activities on Svalbard’s continental shelf,” a statement by the embassy asserted. “But we have not received an answer to that.”

Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende, in an e-mail to VG, suggested Norway’s reaction is likely to be similar with the more recent complaint.

“It is the Norwegian government alone which manages resources on the Norwegian continental shelf,” he wrote. “For that reason it is not of interest to consult with other countries’ governments on the allocation of licenses on the Norwegian continental shelf. This is in line with the Law of the Sea and the attitude of all Norwegian governments since the announcement of licenses on the Norwegian continental shelf began 50 years ago.”

Norway prohibits oil drilling in or near the Arctic sea ice, but earlier this year opened new areas to oil drilling by pushing the ice boundary 60 to 70 kilometers north, citing climate change as the cause. The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate also conducted controversial seismic tests in Svalbard and nearby waters last summer.

The new drilling was also protested by the environmental organization Greenpeace, which has unsuccessfully sought to halt oil work in the Barents Sea numerous times in recent years. The most recent complaint target the northernmost well, called Bjaaland, which OMV Norge is expected to drill for about 50 days.

The company has successfully drilled at two other sites in the same area during the past couple of years and, in its application, asserted the odds of an oil spill reaching Bjørnøya is less than five percent.

The Conservative-led government, while continuing its aggressive efforts to expand oil exploration, is contributing to a new project initiated last month by The Arctic Council aimed at improving responses to oil spills. State Secretary Bård Glad Pedersen, in a prepared statement, said Norway is contributing 3.4 million kroner to the effort.

“These are vulnerable areas exposed when business and transport increases in the Arctic,” he said. “An important part of the government’s  efforts in the north are therefore geared towards environmental protection, safety and emergency preparedness.”
in the north, says State Secretary Bård Glad Pedersen said in a statement.