In the grip of unprecedented heat both economically and in the Arctic climate, Norway announced this week a continuing and aggressive effort to prioritize the financial crisis by opening 125 new oil exploration blocks in the Barents Sea, including areas surrounding the southern waters of Svalbard where drilling is banned.
The new blocks (shown in light red in the map above, with existing blocks in grey and the banned Svalbard territory in the blue circles at the top) are part of a massive petroleum industry incentive package Norway’s government approved earlier this month due to the COVID-19 crisis, including eight billion kroner in tax benefits that could ultimately balloon to 39 billion kroner in incentives based on companies’ returns.
“The last few months have been particularly challenging, including for the oil companies and the supply industry,” Minister of Petroleum and Energy Tina Bru in a prepared statement Wednesday. “It is important not to lose sight of the more long-term prospects of a crisis. We need new discoveries to maintain employment and value creation going forward. I have good faith that the opportunities we now offer in the Barents Sea and the Norwegian Sea will be attractive to the companies and contribute to increased value creation and activity in the north in the long term.”
Some existing blocks are closer to the Svalbard zone than the new ones, including some literally on the edge that are visible to the naked eye from Bjørnøya. But several of the new blocks set new northern latitude records in terms of being in close proximity to both the west and east of the archipelago.
Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway, is among the environmental activists saying they are shocked by the new licenses.
“The government already has a comprehensive knowledge about the world’s climate crisis and is choosing to ignore all advises from experts,” he told The Independent Barents Observer. “They choose to open vast Arctic waters for oil. With today’s announcement, the government shows it is completely blindfolded by reality and choose to turn the deaf ear to climate science.”
An Arctic heatwave in Russia is making global headlines this week as a Siberian town hit a record 38 degrees Celsius on Saturday. Longyearbyen’s temperature this week, with far more temperate highs of eight to ten degrees, nonetheless continues to be well above historical norms (which experts largely agree are now obsolete) and May’s global temperature was the hottest on record.