The oil companies and the political majority in Norway want to start drilling for oil and gas in the biodiversity hotspot of the Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja Islands. Oil and gas activity in the area would jeopardize the spawning area for the world’s largest cod stock, the world’s largest cold water coral reef, the European mainland’s biggest seabird colony and numerous species of other fish, marine mammals, seabirds and invertebrates. Because everything is connected.
There has been temporary ban on petroleum activity in Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja since 2001, due to environmental risks for the marine life and the problematic coexistence between petroleum industry and fishery activity. However, two of the three largest political parties in Norway now want to start a full impact assessment for the Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja Islands with the goal of opening up for oil and gas activity. Norway’s largest political party, the Labor Party, wants to open up Lofoten, the most important area for marine life.
All Norwegian environmental organizations strongly recommend that all of the three areas must remain free of oil production because of the high marine biodiversity and the area’s importance for renewable industries, such as fisheries and tourism. There is a parliamentary election this fall September 2017. The question regarding oil and gas activity outside the islands of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja is one of the most important topics of the elections.
The window of opportunity for influencing the process is now!
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The islands of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja jointly constitute an archipelago north of the Arctic Circle in northern Norway. The ocean outside of the islands is a unique biological production site, created by a combination of the stable and nutrient-rich inflow of water from the oceanic and coastal currents and upwelling from the deep that mixes due to the topography of the islands.
Cod: The Norwegian-Arctic cod is the world's largest cod stock. Every winter it embarks on a journey for thousands of miles from the Barents Sea in the north to the Norwegian coast and the islands of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja – the place it has chosen as its spawning ground. After the spawning, the cod eggs and larvae drift into the Barents Sea and form the basis for much of the ecosystem in this ocean area.
Other species of fish: The waters outside the islands are teeming with different species of fish, in addition to the cod, like haddock, herring, halibut and many, many more. As much as 70 percent of all fish that are fished in the whole of the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea passes through the ocean outside of the islands of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja. Most of them come here while they are egg or larvae – the two stages in a fish’s life when they are most vulnerable if exposed to oil pollution.
Marine mammals: The teeming fish populations also generate rich feeding grounds for bigger animals. Orcas, humpback whales and sperm whales – among others – all spend a lot of time searching for food around the Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja islands. Harbor seals are also abundant in the area.
Cold-water coral reef: The Lofoten Islands are also home to the world’s largest known cold-water coral reef, The Røst reef. Being 45 km long and 3 km wide, the reef is an oasis on the sea bottom and a biodiversity hotspot for marine life. Important sponge communities and areas of sea pens also contribute to the high diversity in the ocean areas outside Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja.
Seabirds: The islands of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja are also the home of the biggest seabird colony in the European mainland and the area is recognized globally as an Important Bird Area (IBA).
Direct threats to marine life:
Oil spills will be a direct threat to cod eggs and larvae, which are amongst the main nutrient sources for other marine life in the Barents Sea. In case of an accident, oil spill will also pose a massive threat to nesting seabirds and marine mammals, which are highly depending on using the ocean areas outside the islands as a nursery and a feeding ground. The production of oil could harm the cold-water coral reef, and an oil spill could be very damaging for the reef.
The weather conditions of the Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja Islands are harsh and during winter, the daylight is very limited. This increases the risk of accidents and makes oil spill response very challenging. The continental shelf outside the islands is very narrow and any oil activity would have to be operated unacceptably close to the shoreline. All types of installations and activity involve a risk of oil spills; exploration, bottom installations, floating platforms, pipelines and increased shipping traffic.
The climate perspective:
The international energy agency (IEA) has clearly stated that 2/3 of all fossil energy sources found as of today must be left remaining in the ground in order to limit the global temperature rise to around 2°C above pre-industrial levels. Oil and gas production are amongst the activities which needs to be phased out over time. It is not a sustainable policy to risk one of the world’s most productive oceans areas – and numerous renewable jobs – over fossil energy production. Oil has made Norway one of the richest countries in the world. But now the time has come to there is no such thing as free oil production.
Some areas should never be exploited. Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja are such areas – keep Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja oil free!