Book recommendation De best intensjoner - Oljelandet i klimakampen

De beste intensjoner - Oljelandet i klimakampen by Anne Karin Sæther, or "The Best of intentions - The oil country in the climate battle" is one of the best books I've read this year. It got great reviews when it came out in 2017, and is still a must read for anyone who wishes to understand the ultimate paradox that is how the Norwegian oil industry and climate legislation has been in bed together since day one. 

The book gives you the historical background since we first found oil in 1969 at Ekofisk, and how the newly established Oil Office compiled "the ten oil commandments" that would govern Norwegian oil and climate policies in the years to come. It was decided that the oil should be extracted at a "moderate" estimate. This meant that Norway had given itself a limit to how much oil that should be extracted each year, based on the precautionary measures that we did not know how it would go. Later in the book, it is revealed that this "moderate" estimate were in fact higher than what the earliest oil pioners could ever imagine that Norway would extract of oil, but the principle of a moderate oil extractive pace was established to stay. 

Then, we are presented with how Norway led the way as the climate leading nation, with the worlds first environmental minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland. In 1987 she presented the report "Our common future" in the UN's climate assembly, where she recognised the impact oil extractions would have on our climate. As one of the first nations, Norway presented its first climate law, which was to "stabilise" the CO2 emissions during the 1990s or latest in the year 2000. 

However, in the Norwegian Parliament and oil industry, it was recognised how this climate law would hinder the oil industry. This is when the idea of climate quotas was first invented. It became  crucial for Norway's new and growing industry, that gave Norway so much wealth, to not be strangled by climate legislation. Therefore, in the next UN assembly, the then statistician Jens Stoltenberg, presented for the environmental ministers the idea that emission cuts could be made outside ones own country. It was in Norway's interest that you could pay other countries a quota, in stead of reducing emissions in your own country. 

In the next UN assembly, where Norway was part of negotiating forward a climate agreement, our new politics on CO2 emissions made us unpopular. Norway was criticised for caring more about national interests, than the climate, and that our protectionism was delaying the work with the climate agreement. 

These are the events the Norwegian oil adventure was based upon. "The best intentions" then goes on and present some of the arguments the Norwegian oil industry has used to defend its further use of more oil extraction in a time when we know how closely linked the oil industry is to climate change and rising CO2 emissions. The myths of "the worlds cleanest oil" and "Norwegian oil to the worlds poor" are dissected and revealed. Further, the book talks about Statoils role in Norway, and how this has affected the Parliament and our politicians. It also discusses modern oil debates, as the Lofoten area.  

This book is for anyone who wishes to understand how and why Norways biggest industry has played such a huge role in our modern history and policy making. It is also for anyone who is interested in Norwegian politics, international climate politics or just wishes to read a really well written book. 



I have been so incredibly fortunate this week that I got to know and become friends with a group of strong indigenous women , coming to Norway to tell us about the fight for clean drinking water at Standing Rock, North Dakota, US. 

The delegation has been here this entire week, and told their story to a live audience twice, in addition to the news station NRK, on the radio, in the newspapers, to politicians and most importantly to the Ethical Council, who are the ones that advices the Oil Fund where to put their money. The delegation also had a meeting with DNB, the last Norwegian bank to withdraw from the project. This happened the day after the delegation came here. A coincident? I think not.

All the Norwegian banks are now out, but the Norwegian Oilfund is still invested with 6,7 billion NOK in the project. This is a substantial amount of money, and the withdrawal of these would create waves to other banks and funds financing the project. With the current administration in US, the hope relies heavily on European banks. 

The testimonials I have heard this week is just gruesome. I followed the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) at the end of last year, and was one of the more than a million supporters who checked in on Facebook to show that my location was also at Standing Rock, as police was using Facebook sign ins as a way to see who was there, in order to arrest people. It is one thing to read about these atrocities towards humanity in the news. It is a complete different story to have that same living breathing person telling you about how their sacred places were intentionally destroyed, how they were jailed and treated in the most inhumane ways, how the police officers abused their power in the worst ways - all because a group of strong people are standing up for the right to clean drinking water.

The status quo on the 1,172 mile pipeline is that there is currently oil in the pipeline. This isn't only going to affect the indigenous communities, it is going to affect everyone who gets their drinking water from the river it is crossing (see illustration below) This goes for the local police officers arresting the Water protectors, as well as the indigenous. 

If it was only one message that was left with people who got to hear the stories of the women fighting for Standing Rock - I hope it is this; we have just about everything in common. You wouldn't want a big massive oil pipeline to run directly across your drinking water. Especially not an oil company which are known for their many spills. When we know that drinking oil causes cancer, and you think about where you get your drinking water coming out of your tap. You wouldn't want that. You wouldn't want it on your friends and family either. And you wouldn't want it on your enemy. The people at Standing Rock are just that - they are people, they are a community and they are our friends. 

Spending time with delegation today just made me even more aware of how incredibly similar we are, how much our joint humour unites us, and the vital importance that we feel and know what is going on in the US right now. The fight isn't won. The project is intended to go on. For us here in Norway, we can keep reminding the Ethical council that it is highly unethical what they are so heavily invested in. If they choose to wait an entire year to draw their money out, then that will be too late. There are also other European banks that needs to be made aware. A full list here. 

The movement around Standing Rock is very much alive, and happening right now. The momentum is stronger than ever, and it is vital to keep the momentum high. Everything is at stake for the Water protectors fighting for their right to have clean drinking water. I would encourage everyone to watch this livestream we recorded on Thursday this week, so you can hear the stories directly yourself. 

I am very glad that you read this. The more people who knows, the better. The power of this movement is the way people are coming together for this cause. We are with you, dear Water protectors, you are not standing alone. #StandWithStandingRock. 

Recommendations to the Norwegian Parliament on petroleum business in the Barents Sea and Sámi conditions

3.10 Recommendations to the Norwegian Parliament on petroleum business in the Barents Sea and Sámi conditions

Einar Eythórsson’s report ‘Petroleumvirksomhet i Lofoten - Barentshavet og samisk forhold’ (‘Petroleum business in Lofoten - Barents Sea and Sámi conditions’) (2003) was one of two official recommendation reports produced on demand for the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy to consider how Sámi interests would be affected with an all-year petroleum activity in these areas. The lead author of this report Einar Eythórsson points out, both within the report but also on an independent science news website for Norwegian science, how he felt the time the research group was given was not sufficient to give a wholesome and representative recommendation report. He demanded at one point that as they had only been given less than 2 months to state all the risks involved for the Sámi with letting the petroleum industry near their coast, this could hardly be adequate to give justice to all the multiple effects that could come of this. The researchers demanded that they should either be allowed to print this clause in the finished document, or they would refuse to publish what they had gathered of information at all. The report ended up being printed with the clause, but regardless it was considered to hold enough information to form an official opinion on petroleum activity in the Barents Sea. 

The report is based on what is considered the six Sámi regions, in total 17 municipalities in the Northern Norway. Except inner Finnmark, all the Coastal Sámi communities experience depopulation and shortage in traditional ways to make a livelihood. When planning where an eventual onshore land base for the petroleum could be located, it is important to localize where the Sámi have their settlements. The Sámi’s traditional fishing includes not only coastal and fjord fishing, but fishing in ice covered waters and in boats that can manage deep seas far from the shore. This needs to be taken into consideration when drawing the lines for what are Sámi interest areas at sea. 

3.11 Oil spills under ice and health effects on Arctic humans

The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) concludes in its final report ‘Arctic Oil and Gas 2007’ that oil activity can never fully be risk free, due to how tankers can spill transported oil, pipelines can start leaking, as well as accidents, even under the strictest of regulations. The social and economic effects oil activity will have for Arctic people, among them indigenous, are dependent on how involved the Arctic people is on decision making. The report recommends that prior to opening new areas for oil and gas exploration, or building the infrastructure to make these types of industries possible, the indigenous communities must be consulted so the negative effects can be held at a minimum and that the indigenous communities receive the maximum of the benefits from developing a new infrastructure. Their traditional knowledge can be used both for planning what areas to avoid building in, as these could be significant to the indigenous communities. How environmental monitoring has previously been done can provide a double security when what is available of modern technology equipment is combined with how the environment has used to change. When regarding how the indigenous might want employment in the oil industry, it is worth considering the effect it would have for a small indigenous community if the majority of the adult generation stops doing traditional activities as fishing due to a better salary in the oil industry. Generation gaps like this can have unforeseen effects on smaller communities. 

On the effects oil will have on the environment and ecosystems of the Arctic, the report states how the Arctic surface environments are one of places on Earth that will show clearest evidence of alteration, and for the marine environment the main cause of change comes from oil spills. How oil behaves in Arctic waters is so unknown that a high sensitivity towards what the species already living there can manage must be the ultimate goal for any oil exploration. The Exxon Valdez oil spill continues to affect the environment for decades, and as there has currently been no major oil spill in the Arctic we can not know the long term effects. 

Humans can be affected by exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons and this is mainly caused by an oil spill. The food security can also experience a risk of being altered either in quality, quantity or availability, this is directly linked to the state of the marine animals, as the main food source for most indigenous people living in the Arctic comes from the ocean, as the soil is too cold for agriculture. The overall picture of how petroleum hydrocarbons affect human health in the Arctic is complex at best. 

Oil spill response programs where ice is present hold a major challenge for all Arctic states exploring the option of oil activity. Most of the equipment suggested for use today were not designed to be used in an Arctic environment, and will therefore be inadequate when combating spills. This illustration shows the bio network of the Barents Sea (see figure 2). The whales in this area have needed a long time to grow in population size after centuries of hunting. It is only recently starting to pick itself up. Oil drilling and gas activity are the new threats facing the Barents Sea, and with such an abundant marine life the consequences of an oil spill could be hazardous. 

A key finding of the AMAP report is how there are no effective means of gathering or rinsing up an oil spill in broken sea ice (See figure 3). Oil spill responding in the winter adds to the impossibility as there will be no light between November and January (Arktisk system) and the darkness coincides with the harsh weather predictions of winter storms. If an oil spill were to happen in the winter on land or on the top of the unbroken sea ice, this would be easier to retrieve, as long as it can be finalized before spring time, when oil would sink under the ice. So far with the current technology the best recommendation from the AMAP study is to prevent an oil spill, rather than being dependent on an oil spill recovery system. The report suggests that this is still an area where new technology is needed, particularly for oil under ice and in broken ice, which might easily be the case if oil exploration takes place in the South-East Barents Sea, where the Ice Edge and Polar Front pose both of these challenges. 

Figure 2: Simplified Barent Sea food-web The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) ‘Arctic Oil and Gas 2007’

Figure 2: Simplified Barent Sea food-web The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) ‘Arctic Oil and Gas 2007’

Figure 3: The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) ‘Arctic Oil and Gas 2007’

Figure 3: The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) ‘Arctic Oil and Gas 2007’

Concerns from a Coastal Sámi organization on rights to the natural resources

3.8 Concerns from a Coastal Sámi organization on rights to the natural resources

Bivdi, a Coastal Sámi interest organization for promoting and safeguarding the Coastal Sámi’s interests and rights to the sea, explains how the Coastal Sámi culture is likely to be the oldest culture in Norway, and the oldest in Sámi context. By using the coastal areas for fishing, the Coastal Sámi have gathered knowledge and rights from having done so in a very long timeframe. Their entire settlements, livestock and identity are based around the marine resources. Experience-based knowledge has throughout the ages designed an adaptable commercial activity and coastal culture. However, Bivdi has its basis in that the resources for fishing and the other marine resources and rights in the nearby areas belong to the community. These are rights that cannot be invested in, and will not be a traded good for capitalistic interest, but needs to be the foundation for a continuously viable community. During the past hundred years, the Coastal Sámi fishers have been in dialog with the authorities to report back what the situation is at sea, and what is needed for the Coastal Sámi to protect their rights. Bivdi reports that this has been experienced as a hopeless struggle where the Coastal Sámi have continuously been the losing part. This is why they claim that today the result is the long term effects of a failed fishing policy and the consequences of the marked forces, which is a dramatic reduction in resources and many rural Coastal Sámi communities have been abandoned. Their strategy as an organization includes that fishing zones are established, and where there is doubt, the rights should be given back to the local communities. The commercial activity needs to be agreeable with the joint local management, meaning experience-based knowledge will be a part of the wider management. Bivdi welcomes new technology and knowledge when this is used alongside a Coastal Sámi way of sustainable thinking. There is a need for research from a Coastal Sámi perspective, and in this fjord and coastal communities have a joint agenda not considering whether the population living there are Sámi or non-Sámi. The exploitation of the marine resources is of collective interest and by establishing an indigenous zone Bivdi exclaims how this would aid in building a stronger protective area around their resources. This would also help the social rights for Coastal Sámi that need improving including infrastructure and their livestock. 

The report ‘Our common future’ under the chapter on ‘Empowering Vulnerable Groups’ states that it is a ‘Terrible irony that as formal development reaches more deeply into rain forests, deserts, and other isolated environments, it tends to destroy the only cultures that have proved able to thrive in these environments.’ (WCED, 1987: 115) This holds true for the Sámi population of the far most northern municipalities of Norway. 

The book ‘Arctic oil and gas - Sustainability at risk?’ (2008) opens up a new angle to the Barents Sea oil reservoirs; as the non-Sámi population is not a homogeneous groups, neither are the Sámi. Within the Sámi Parliament there are members advocating that the petroleum reservoirs found on Sámi territory should rightfully go to the Sámi. This view does not indicate that the petroleum would be extracted or refined by the Sámi population, as they do not claim the sole right to the petroleum findings, but the main consideration is that as these potential oil and gas findings are located in Sámi territories it is their right that this should benefit the Sámi. The Sámi parliament got a UN resolution from the Human Rights Council declaring that indigenous rights include resources in and bellow the sea, to hand over to the Norwegian Parliament when considering the management of the petroleum found in the South-East Barents Sea. 

Thoughts on an Arctic Legal Treaty Recognizing its indigenous population

3.2 Thoughts on an Arctic Legal Treaty Recognizing its indigenous population

The ‘Law of the Sea Report, Vol. 3 (2012) No. 1 Don’t leave the Sámi out in the cold: The Arctic region needs a binding treaty that recognizes its indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and free, prior and informed consent’ discusses how the indigenous people living in the Arctic have adapted their way of life in the cold for thousands of years in order to develop the necessary resilience, and how their culture and spiritual traditions have formed their own way of relating to the ecosystem called ‘Traditional Ecological Knowledge’ (TEK). This TEK makes it possible for the indigenous to interpret weather signs and accordingly predict the weather, but due to the extreme changes caused by climate change, predicting the weather has become harder, and as they can no longer with certainty rely on what was previously considered reliable sources of information, their security has decreased. The indigenous people of the northern parts of Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Kola Peninsula of Russia are called the Sámi. Their nation is called Sámpi, even though this is a nation without a state or borders, but the inhabitants of the area share the same history, culture, language and way of life. The entire Sámi population is estimated to lie between 70,000 and 100,000, where the majority is found within Norway. After the Inuits, they are the second largest indigenous group living in the Arctic and within the Sámi population there is a divide between coastal and river Sámi, mountain Sámi, forest Sámi and eastern Sámi, however, they view themselves as one people. Under the section ‘Environmental Protection’ the report explains how the Arctic has a highly complex ecosystem and how this makes it even more vulnerable to interferences. To disconnect Sámi from their land can cause cultural genocide. The source further suggests that the result of environmental changes that may cause difficulties for the Sámi must be addressed in an Arctic treaty that will protect Sámi and indigenous people living in the Arctic’s rights for protection of land and resources. This is not only in the interest of the Sámi, but also the Arctic states, as the trans-boundary pollution and over-exploitation will contaminate the Sámi’s land alongside the Arctic states resources. Article 192 of the 1982 UNCLOS (United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea) says that nations have an ‘obligation to protect and preserve the marine environment.’(UN LOS) The report further suggests that this should also include management of the Arctic’s resources, including gas, oil and marine life, in addition to, the recognition of the indigenous peoples’ right to enjoyment of their land, which includes the right to enjoy the land’s resources. The state’s interest of utilizing these areas should not infringe on this right. Article 134 on ice-covered areas note how areas with ‘particularly severe climatic conditions’ in ice covered areas for most of the year needs regulations to prevent ‘irreversible disturbance of the ecological balance.’ These regulations shall be based on the best scientific evidence that is available. 

3.3 Arctic Energy Challenges

In the chapter ‘Miljø, ressurser og transport i Arktis - Petroleumsforekomster’ (‘Environment, Resources and Transport in the Arctic - Petroleum findings’) in the book ‘Arktiske utfordringer’ (‘Arctic Challenges’) (2012) by Geir Hønneland the author states how according to United States Geological Survey it is estimated that more than 20 percent of the world’s undiscovered petroleum resources can be located in the Arctic, and how 30 percent of these are estimated to be gas resources, and 13 percent undiscovered oil. The main component of these resources is assumed to be located offshore on the continental shelf, that is in waters with a depth that is less than 500 meters. The majority of these resources are again estimated to be on the Russian side of the borders, however as the source is aware of, these are only estimates. The estimates do not state what is technically or economically possible to produce. The scope of the undiscovered oil in the Arctic is estimated to not be large enough to alter the world’s existing supply pattern in any significant way, whereas the gas resources would be able to affect the supply pattern in the future. 1/4 of the oil equivalents, both petroleum resources combined, is set to be in Alaska and the Eastern Barents Sea, in the area where Norway has opened up for oil exploration. More than 70 percent of the estimated oil resources are calculated to be located in five main areas: Alaska, the Amerasia-pool, East-Greenland, the Eastern Barents Sea and West-Greenland/North-East-Canada (USGS 2008). 

3.4 An Oil Spill Scenario in the South-East Barents Sea

The NUPI (Norwegian Institute of International Affairs) report ‘Miljøpersepsjoner i Nordvest-Russland - Problemoppfatninger knyttet til petroleumsutbygging i Barentshavet’ (‘Environmental Perceptions in North-West Russia - Problem perceptions regarding the petroleum development in the Barents Sea’) views the differences between Norway and Russia when it comes to handling the environmental concern in the Barents Sea. The danger of oil spills is a consistent theme, and the different institutes in Russia working on how to solve this has not landed on a unison yet, partly because that there is no one today that knows the long term effect of the chemicals that are being used. Several of the methods used by Russian scientific oil institutes to avoid having physical oil spills located on the surface involves letting the oil sink to the bottom, even though this has devastating effects on the sea bottom. One of two environmental organizations consulted in Nenets, Russia, who also worked on the indigenous interests, criticized the Russian attitude which they interpreted to be as the ones who are most affected, the indigenous, are the same ones that will be least consulted. 

Norwegian Arctic oil history

3.0 Literature Review

The following chapter presents the literature of this dissertation and the background of the study. 

3.1 Norwegian Arctic oil history

‘Den nye nordområdepolitikken’ (‘The New North Area Policy’) (2008) by Geir Hønneland and Leif Christian Jensen discuss how there has been a shift in Norwegian policymaking regarding the High North. The shift started when Jonas Gahr Støre became the new foreign minister in 2005. The new topics on the agenda for the High North were now distribution of resources and security politics – topics that had not been discussed since The Cold War. Oil drilling in the High North had hardly been mentioned before this, and the divide between Norwegian and Russian fishing quotas had found its common middle ground in the 1970s. The book draws its main focus to the NOU’s (Norges offentlige utredninger) (Official Norwegian Reports) regarding the Northern areas of Norway after 2003 when the new development started. This includes the documents: 

  • ‘Mot nord!’ (‘Towards North!’) (2003) 
  • ‘Muligheter og utfordringer i nord’ (‘Possibilities and challenges in the North’) (2005) 
  • ‘Barents 2020’ (2006) 
  • ‘Regjeringens nordområdestrategi’ (‘The governments North area strategy’) (2006)

‘Regjeringens nordområdestrategi’ (‘The government’s North area strategy’) dedicates chapters to indigenous questions, environmental considerations and petroleum. Furthermore there are discussions around the process of the opening of the first petroleum activity in the Barents Sea on the ‘Snøhvit’-project. When it was suggested that there should be petroleum free zones within this area, the ministry for oil and energy was concerned this might cause unnecessary conflict focus, and the worry was that if these areas first were protected, then this could be the first step to more petroleum free zones in the Barents Sea. With this approach to petroleum exploration, that protected areas are sometimes necessary to preserve the ecosystem, the sitting government (Bondevik 2) showed respect towards the Rio-conference in 1992 on biological diversity. At the Johannesburg-conference ten years later it was encouraged that this way of approaching marine resources was recommended. The state report from the same government in the spring of 2002 ‘Rent og rikt hav’ (‘Clean and rich ocean’) states that Norway wants to count on holistic management plans for all the Norwegian sea areas, and with an expressive wish to start with the Barents Sea. This was justified because there is still a relatively small amount of human interference in this area, and it is also one of the richest areas for fish, sea birds and sea mammals in the world. The main aspects of the ecosystem has been researched, but there is still a low level of agreed knowledge on how pollution affects the species and the ecosystem. The report also states how the low temperatures and drifting ice give the oil and chemicals released in the water a long degradation. This combined with the occasionally high waves that can occur during the dark season gives an overall image of oil spill reduction being severely limited. Combined with the poorer infrastructure of North-Troms and Finnmark compared to the rest of the country this contributes even further in weakening level of preparedness for a potential oil spill. 

The State Report ‘Helhetlig forvaltning av det marine miljø i Barentshavet og havområdene utenfor Lofoten’ (2005-2006) (‘Wholesome management of the marine environment in the Barents Sea and the sea areas around Lofoten’) explains how the Barents Sea is a shallow ocean with an average depth of 230 meters, and the most shallow areas are located in the South-East. Even thought the Barents Sea surface areas only measure 7% of the Arctic Ocean areas, the main bulk of the Arctic marine resources is located in this area. This is caused due to the fact that a considerable amount of the North-East-Atlantic fish resources live parts or their entire life cycle in the Barents Sea. 

The book looks backwards and reviews the 1990s as a decade where the oil industries interest for the Arctic ocean areas were low, even thought they in the 1980s had experienced a promising optimism surrounding these areas. However, ten years later the search did not show results, and in 2007 geologist Jan Inger Faleide expressed to the independent research website forskning.no how the Barents Sea was raised and lowered during the past ice ages, and how this caused the thickness of several kilometers of sediments to be scraped off. This gave the gas the room to expand and how this caused the reaction where the oil was outright pumped out of the reservoirs. Further, he points out that among the geologists it is said that the industry should have drilled for oil in these areas ten million years ago (this is however only one theory, which not all experts agree upon). 

To sum up, the book discusses the three discourses that have been dominant in Norway: The ‘protective’ discourse, the ‘energy appetite and new alliances’ discourse and the ‘drilling for the environment’ discourse. The ‘protective’ discourse states that petroleum activity in the Barents Sea will threaten the fragile Arctic environment and the renewable sea resources, and therefore demands that Norway refrains from it. An article from the financial newspaper Dagens Næringsliv on the 10th of April 2000 explains: The sea areas where it is currently being discussed to open up for large-scale oil delivery is in a fishing context among the most valuable in the world. The Barents Sea, with large populations of cod, shrimp, herring and capelin, is the ecological foundation that enables Norway to produce seafood for over 30 billions NOK annually. That this sea area has a documentable clean environment is the most important condition to why fishers, breeders and biotechnologist pictures a multiplication of todays value in the next 20-30 years. The fear is however that if 100.000 tons of crude oil is transported through the Barents Sea and along the Norwegian coast, it is only a question of time before a ship wreck or another serious accident with enormous oil spills will be the result. The ‘energy appetite and new alliances’  discourse refers to Norway’s relationship to Russia, and how Russia has already gotten a pre-start, and how Norway must not appear small and backwards-looking towards the wider world community. This discourse appeals to the fear that Norway will be a ‘pigeon among cranes’ and will end up in a ‘geopolitical cross road’ if Norway does not also ‘compete’ in the ‘race against the North’, that has already started. There is also the factor that the world will need more energy, and it is Norway’s obligation to provide this. The third discourse, ‘drilling for the environment’, draws on the previous prerequisite that the Russians have already started, but their equipment is old and outdated, whereas if Norway were to do the oil drilling, it would at least be done with the newest within the technology, and therefore it is Norway’s duty to lead the way to set the right environmental standard within oil drilling in the Barents Sea. 

Answers from the Coastal Sámi part 2

5. Has anyone informed specifically about the risks of an oil spill for you who live close to the South-East Barents Sea?

This was the one of two questions where the answers were unanimously ‘No’  with the most elaborate being ‘No, I miss information about this. It is we who have to live with the consequences.’ This single question can possibly be the greatest finding of this study, as for any nation wishing to do activities in a territory known to be inhabited by an indigenous population, The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UN DRIPS 2008) states how the ‘Principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent’ should be applied. That information is not given directly to any of the 9 informants of this study can be explained with that information was given to the Sámi Parliament. However, what this dissertation argues is that it can not possibly be an informed consent at this stage, as

  1. There is no known way today on how to safely remove oil from ice covered waters. As the decision of regardless of this opening an Arctic area, the South-East Barents Sea, for oil recovery, an area that borders permanent ice, is therefore an uninformed decision, as the inhabitants cannot be given proper information on what might happen to their nature if an accident were to happen due to opening their territory to the oil sector. 
  2. The marine bottom of the South-East Barents Sea is currently being mapped as part of the impact assessment done on the area, and this process is not estimated to be finished before 2020 (Mareano 2007). The decision to open the area up for oil exploration was still made, even though the Sámi populations heavily depends on what the findings might say on how the marine life is changing in population size or behavioral patterns. 

As facts were missing in both cases, it can be argued that Norway breaks the international treaty they have signed in order to protect their indigenous population. 

6. What thoughts do you have around a coexistence between the fishing industry and the oil industry; is it realistic?

The range of these answers came from a concern on how the oil industry might take over what was already there of the fishing industry;‘It is not realistic as long as there is a race towards getting the oil up.’ and ‘If the oil industry continues to grow it is NOT realistic. One should count less on the oil industry and more on the fishing industry. Let all of us in Norway come closer to nature!’ to the optimistic for coexistence ‘One has to adapt to everyday life. Cooperation and dialogue is key.’ The more specific answers were on the topic of seismic activity. One informant answered ‘The sound waves of seismic shooting when they search for oil scare the fish in a radius up to 34 kilometers from the area it is shooting in. And an oil spill would be a catastrophe. In the North there is a lot of bad weather, this can not possibly end well.’ On the same matter another informant replied ‘It is very problematic in my view. Not only does the frequent seismic shooting disturb the fish, but an eventual oil spill would be catastrophic.’  Both these concerns highlights how both the safe practice of doing oil searching activities may cause harm, but also how the overhanging threat of an oil spill would be severely detrimental for the fishing industry. 

7. If repeated oil spills were to occur in your close environment, would this be a reason to move?

These answers showed a variety from the ones who did not see moving as a possibility; ‘No. My home is way to close to my heart. Besides, someone has to stay here and protest against the oil industry.’ and ‘Not for me and my family, but for many others. And if it was not a reason to move it would still reduce the life quality of many.’ to the ones willing ‘Of course, one does not wish to live in an environment that is contaminated.’ and ‘Yes, it would reduce the wellbeing of living in my close environment.’ but the answer that highlighted this debate the most was the informant who raised the very relevant question‘Yes, but where can one move? It is one thing to think that you can just move if the nature surrounding you is destroyed, but if all the world’s population gets their areas destroyed of modern non-renewable and capitalist driven industry were to move it would be total chaos.’  As more people have become refugees due to the changing climate than there currently are refugees caused by war (Regjeringen 2013), these are alarming prospects that the informant raise. 

8. Do you experience a great awareness in your local community around what an oil spill would mean for your close environment?

The tendencies from the answers points towards that the environmental concerns are known but not discussed in the public debates on oil in the Barents Sea. ‘Yes, but this does not show in the public debate. It is only characterized by the hope of growth and prosperity.’ and ‘There exists a conscience about the consequences. But one does not talk about it.’ There was also one informant who replied that there was a lack of awareness, and instead of this there were hopes that the oil industry might bring more workplaces than what already exists; ‘No, people think that there will be more workplaces. They don’t think about the ones who are likely to lose their workplaces, such as the fishers.’ 

9. Are you familiar with the oil spill recovery situation of an oil spill where you live, and how long it would take from the oil spill until the emergency action was operative?

This was the other question where the unanimous answer was ‘No’, with one informant adding the concern on the technology available today: ‘No, I have no knowledge on this. Except that it works very poorly today.’

10. Have you participated politically in the relation to the oil drilling in the South-East Barents Sea? 

This question caused many answers along the line of ‘In no way.’ except for two of the informants who replied ‘I am a local politician. But if there are plans of a demonstration towards the oil industry, of course I will join.’ and ‘I stood on a list under the last Sámi Parliament election. I am a member of ‘Nature and Youth’(Environmentalist organization). That only 2 out of 9 informants had participated politically against oil drilling may have a variety of factors, one of them being, based on the answers in question number 8 on awareness, that this is currently not a political matter. 

11. In your opinion, what would you say weighs more heavily in your local community: The ecosystem of the ocean, or a possible financial growth due to the oil recovery? 

The majority of the informants answered that a healthy ecosystem in the ocean is the main factor in their close environment‘To preserve the ecosystem intact is the most important factor.’, however informants were worried that this was not always the case for the political decisions‘The ecosystem in the ocean should weigh the heaviest. The fish would give work to many more. Sadly it doesn’t due to political reasons, or political weakness.’ or the majority of the inhabitants ‘For me it is the ecosystem, but I think for the majority it will be financial growth.’ An important question was raised when one informant asked ‘The ecosystem in the ocean. As long as the fish exist we will always have food. Isn’t our economy good enough?’  Is the economic need for oil of greater value than securing the fishery industry, an industry which in 2010 contributed with 46,5 billions NOK (Sintef 2010) to Norway’s GDP?

12. Are you familiar with the problems connected to gathering oil in ice covered waters, as next to the Ice Edge and the Polar Front? 

The majority answered negatively ‘No.’  to this question except for one informant who was familiar with the problematic nature of oil near the Ice Edge and Polar Front‘Yes, it is unique and vulnerable nature and animal life there. Sea scientists and environmental experts warn against it.’Another informant contributed by stating what is the general consensus on oil recovery in ice covered waters ‘Yes. I am familiar with it and know that it is near impossible.’

13. Is there anything else about oil recovery in the South-East Barents Sea that engages you that has not been raise in the earlier questions?

One informant had a valuable point on food security that had not been directly addressed in the previous questions‘I fish all year around to collect food. If the fishing had been equally as good as it was 20 years ago, I would have made fishing my life stock. There are few who eats more fish than me. I never buy fish or meat in the store. The most important fish species in quantity here is the cod. It is mostly fjord and coastal cod, but also arctic cod. If a bigger oil spill were to occur an entire year of arctic cod could be extinct. That affects my opportunity to collect food. As of today the consequences would not be that big, but in 10-20 years time, when I am sure that the food prices will have risen, then a decrease in the cod population will have a major impact for me. The time perspective for the food security needs to be longer than the foreseeable future , and this informant addressed how an oil spill could possibly make an entire year of arctic cod become extinct due to pollution. 

New mini-series: Learn more about Arctic oil drilling and the Coastal Sámi!

As a new mini-series, I have decided to publish a blog post on one chapter from my master every day for the next 14 days or so (making it a bit like the Norwegian hit series SKAM). Arctic oil drilling is a highly relevant topic these days, and my hope for this mini series is to spread awareness of the current situation, and let more people join in on the conversation on Arctic oil drilling. Here we go: 

To what extent will there be consequences for the Coastal Sámi in the event of an Arctic oil spill in the South-East Barents Sea? — With a case study of Coastal Sámi inhabitants living in the northernmost municipalities of Norway


This dissertation provides a thorough response to the research question ‘what risk factors does the Coastal Sámi community face when considering an oil spill in the South-East Barents Sea?’ In addition to how the ocean is of significant cultural value to the Coastal Sámi for their sense of identity, it is also their primary food source. Oil activity in the South-East Barents Sea will pose a threat already under safe practice, as the seismic shooting the Norwegian oil industry use in order to locate oil wells has a negative effect on larva and fry. The sea bottom of the Barents Sea is currently being mapped, and the report is estimated to be finished in 2020, making it impossible to predict further consequences on the marine life before this time. Large scale oil spill recovery tests affirmed how techniques used in open waters to remove oil were not applicable, and how satellite monitoring system would not pick up oil spilt under ice with a density percentage over 40%. The case study confirmed that the risks of an oil spill had not been given to the informants. A plausible reason could be that information was given to the Sámi Parliament on behalf of the Sámi, but as there is no known knowledge on how to clean an Arctic spill, this withholding of information breaks with the Principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent in The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which Norway has signed. Recommendations includes drawing up a treaty distributing areas in and around the sea between the Sámi population and the non-indigenous population of Norway, waiting until the sea bottom mapping is finished before oil licenses are being allocated and in order to achieve Norway’s climate emission targets leave the oil reservoirs unexplored. 


‘The Arctic is closer to our homes than we think.’

- David Attenborough


1.0 Introduction

1.1 Background of the study

The background for this masters dissertation is that the human created (Stern 2006) climate change is heating up the Arctic at a faster pace than any other place on the globe. This causes melting of the permanent ice, and with this the opening of an unexploited territory in regards of fossil energy sources. Norway owns oil concessions in the Barents Sea (see figure 1), and gas production has already started in the Southern areas of the Barents Sea in the ‘Snøhvit’ field 140 km North-West of Hammerfest. The concern of this dissertation is what the consequences for the indigenous population of Norway, the Sámi, would be if an oil spill in these recently opened areas were to occur. Norway found oil on the Norwegian shelf in 1969 (Regjeringen 2013) on the field named ‘Ekofisk’, whereas the Sámi, and in particular the Coastal Sámi population, have been inhabiting the same areas that are now being opened up to the petroleum industry for over 10.000 years (Porsanger Sameforening 2013). What is special with the South-East Barents Sea being opened for oil exploration, (and also the North Barents Sea that has been test-drilled for oil while this dissertation has been written), is that the South-East Barents Sea borders to the permanent ice, an area both indigenous and non-indigenous people of the North rely on for food security, as its existence is crucial for the complex and highly adapted biodiversity of the Arctic. Oil spill recovery systems do exist for open waters, but not for oil that has leaked under ice. Arctic drilling is a new phenomenon and tests on how to detect and clean up an oil spill sponsored by several leading oil companies have proven to be extremely challenging, if not impossible at this time(Sintef 2010). 

  Figure 1. Impact assessment area: The Norwegian Oil Directorate 

1.2 The main research question

In June 2013 the Norwegian government agreed to open the South-East areas of the Norwegian Barents Sea for oil exploration, in the hope that there will be oil reservoirs. This is a new direction in Norwegian policy making, because this is the first time an area close to the permanent ice has been opened up. The Sámi, and in particular the Coastal Sámi, are dependent on the nearby ocean and a functioning ecosystem for their continued survival as a people. The full consequences of an oil spill in Arctic waters are unknown, this dissertation will therefore assess risk factors based on current knowledge and seek out to give a full perspective of the environmental impacts for the Coastal Sámi population, and what acts of mitigation would be necessary in order to prevent potential damage done to their immediate nature.                                                  

1.3 Rationale

This dissertation will consider how an Arctic oil spill will affect the Coastal Sámi population because my thesis is that all the facts was not properly presented when the decision of opening the South-East Barents Sea for oil recovery was made, due to how there is little to no known facts on how to remove oil from ice covered waters(Sintef 2010). After reading through the official documents by the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy sent out on a hearing to the Sámi Parliament, these parts were not included and the process of opening the above named areas was heavily criticized for having happened too quickly for affected parts to protest. 

1.3.1 Scope

This dissertation will not consider the two following aspects of oil in the Barents Sea: 

1. A report done by SINTEF on how oil reacts in Arctic waters (Sintef 2010) suggest that it is probably from the increased shipping traffic through the North-East passage that an oil leakage will come from, and that these kinds of oil spills will be harder to control from for example a governmental point of view, because from an economical perspective with the melting poles, it is more lucrative to use the North-East passage and therefor the shipping will probably happen either way if oil drilling is not going to take place in the Arctic. The report stated that the usual way oil spills from tankers is noticed is by constant satellite photos, but the problem with the Arctic is that if the ice concentration is high then it is impossible to spot the spills, and this is when the oil can drift under the ice for months.

2. Many experts have pointed towards that oil exploration in the Arctic, and particularly in the Barents Sea, is not an economically good decision as it is highly expensive to start exploration in an area where there is currently no sufficient equipment to drill safely, nor a connection to the already existing transport system Norway transports its LNG on.

1.4 Aims

The aim of this masters dissertation is to highlight the indigenous perspective of the Coastal Sámi in the debate around oil activities in the High North of Norway. A common feature for indigenous populations is their dependence on the nature for their continuous survival as a people and the Coastal Sámi are not different. When interfering with the Coastal Sámi’s prospects of a livestock funded in the primary sector, the oil industry does not only put their main food source at risk, but also how they define themselves as a people. Their identity is so intertwined with where they live and how their food is gathered, that a clean shoreline and waters are a prerequisite for the Costal Sámi’s existence. This statement is based on results from the interviews that will be discussed in chapter 2 of this dissertation.

Suing the Norwegian State over constitutional violations

The past two years we have seen every previous heat record to date being broken. We know the reason why this is happening. The burning of fossile fuels as oil, coal and gas give us carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that escalates the global heating. This is causing the world we live in to be more unevenly distributed, where those who have done the least to contribute to the global heating are the ones suffering the most. 

In June 2016, the Norwegian government handed out permissions to drill for oil in the Barents Sea, through the 23rd licensing round. In total, 53 new search licences were distributed and Statoil announced that they would start the oil drilling already next summer. Not many months after, the Norwegian government handed out even more licences in the 24rd licence round. 

This does not make any sense due to two good reasons: 

  1. We have a Environmental paragraph in our constitution, paragraph 112, that states: ‘Everyone has the right to an environment that ensures the health, and to a nature where production capability and diversity is preserved. Natural resources should be allocated on the basis of a long-term and versatile consideration that safeguards this right also to the coming generations’ and ‘the States authorities shall implement measures to conduct these principles.’ 
  2. In Paris in December last year, Norway ratified, as one of the first countries, on the new climate agreement that states that we wish to hold the human created global heating to less than 1,5 degrees.

A new report from Oil Change International has also stated that if we are to reach these climate goals, we have to leave all the undiscovered oil in the ground. The report also states that the oil resources we already are drilling will contribute to a higher CO2 emission target than 2 degrees, if we are to burn the oil. This makes it pointless to drill for more new oil. 

Norway likes to think of itself as a green country, and the best in the class, but our actions speaks louder than words. 

Because of this is a number of environmental organisations now suing the Norwegian State for violations on our constitution. 

‘We think that the state has broken its responsibility for future generations by opening for large scale oil drilling. If we are to have a Earth to live on in the future, we need to take the climate changes seriously and leave the oil in the soil’ said Ingrid Skjoldvær, leader of Nature and Youth. 

‘At the same time as Erna Solberg, Norwegian Prime minister, signed the Paris agreement and promised big emission cuts, the Norwegian government opened for large scale oil drilling in the Barents Sea. We ask the court to make these licences void, because more oil will lead to higher emissions, not lower’, said Truls Gulowsen, leader of Greenpeace Norway. 

‘Norway seems determined on sabotaging the Paris-agreement even before it went into action’ wrote Nasa scientist James Hansen, in an open letter to Erna Solberg. 

With this lawsuit, the environmental organisations aim to focus on that environmental damages is not only a political problem. This regards the livelihoods of the humans that live now, but also the ones that will come after us. Given that we have a Constitution that states as clearly as the Norwegian environmental paragraph does, there are certain limits what the Norwegian government can do. The resources found in our nature are to be distributed with thoughts to a longterm and safe future. 

If you wish to follow the lawsuit, and add your name to show your support, you can follow this link: https://www.savethearctic.org/en/the-people-vs-arctic-oil/?utm_source=internal&utm_medium=post&utm_term=People%20vs%20Arctic%20Oil,arctic,action%20page,oil&utm_campaign=Polar&__surl__=IgOs9&__ots__=1476909143400&__step__=1