Why drilling for oil in the Barents Sea is irresponsible

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This text, which is a synthesis of half of my master, has previously been published in Norwegian at both Putsj http://putsj.no/appell/uforsvarlig-olje-i-barentshavet-article6979-373.html and Spireorg http://spireorg.no/spire-i-media/uforsvarlig-olje-i-barentshavet

Today, the Norwegian Government handed out 13 new licenses to oil companies, including areas in the South-East Barents Sea, which is the exact part I wrote my master about, because this particular area is so vulnerable and needs protection against the oil industry. 

The Barents Sea is only a small part of the entire Arctic region. However, 75% of all life in the Arctic region lives in the Barents Sea in the most fragile fases of their life cycle, because this is where the ice edge stretches, and it’s an ideal place to find food. This zone is therefore particularly vulnerable for all life in and around the sea.

Dangerous seismic

Even under safe circumstances, with no oil spills, oil drilling in the Barents Sea would still present a massive risk due to the effect the seismic has on the cod fry. Consequences of seismic drilling for larger mammals can be fatal. Tests where krill have been exposed to seismic sound waves have shown that fry die or get severe damages, and young krill loses its sensory functions and starts to swim on the side or up-side-down. When oil drilling shows this much impact on the lowest stage in the food chain it creates a threat for the entire ecosystem.

Unfinished Seabed analysis 

The seabed in the Barents Sea is still being mapped and we won’t know the entirety of the biodiversity there before 2020, when the Mareano- examination is set to be finished. The seabed samples we are basing the facts on today are estimates made during the 2nd World War by Sovjet submarine reconnaissance. In the years after, many new species have been introduces, both former unknown and foreign species from other oceans. We do not know the full extent of what kinds of life forms that lives at the bottom of this seabed. What we do know is that these particular areas of the Arctic are very special and protection worthy, and should never be exposed to oil business.

Oil spill preparedness 

In the case of an oil spill, this region is particularly vulnerable. Good oil spill preparedness is practically impossible with todays technology and the wild nature in the Barents Sea. Oil spill readiness equipment used in non-ice filled waters will not work in the Barents Sea. This has to do with how the oil is discovered. Under normal circumstances with no ice, satellites in space is continuously taking pictures of the sea surface which is constantly being monitored and checked. With this method, an oil spill can be discovered early.

Conditions are different in the Barents Sea. When the ice density is over 40% the ice becomes too white for the surveillance equipment to notice anything happening under the ice, and as a result, the oil spill would be impossible to discover. In ice covered waters, this can cause that the oil can drift under the ice for several months before it suddenly appears at the coast. In the meantime it can have done irreparable damage.

Other traditional methods for oil capture is in situ burning, which is to light on fire the oil that has been spilt in controlled areas. This would also not work in ice covered waters. Another method that has been attempted in open waters is to lower the oil in the water using enormous amounts of boiling water. This would be catastrophic because for the animals and plants in the Arctic that are dependent on the exact temperatures they have adapted to.

Hard working conditions 

If an accident were to occur, the conditions for the clean up would be severely demanding. This region is situated far off shore, with extreme weather conditions and six months of dark season, and it is not uncommon that waves can grow to be 20-25 meters. This makes the clean up work nothing but dangerous for the workers. Both human and animal life will be put in danger for an industry the world community now works together to put to an end.

The oil licenses have been handed out, but it is a long process from the licensing to the actual drilling and exploration of oil. If we allow this to happen to the Barents Sea, it will have serious consequences. Not only will it threaten the ecosystem, but an oil spill will be virtually impossible to detect and let alone to limit. The seabed is also potentially worthy of protection. To conclude; oil drilling in the Arctic is not showing us the path to a more sustainable future.

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Early stages

Since the last blog entry, I’ve mainly done some reading (see illustration below). The book ‘Den nye nordområdepolitikken’ = ‘The New North Area Politics’ got me feeling very grateful that I get to research something I find both so interesting and meaningful!

 

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Due to some unforeseen circumstances, the field trip to the North has been delayed until July. Meanwhile, I’ve gotten an excellent contact at the University of Nordland, PhD student Astri Dankertsen who tipped me of who to contact to get in touch with my interviewees, so I contacted:

– Várdobaiki in Evenes muncipality

– Árran in Tysfjord municipality

– Kåfjord in North-Troms (Lyngen, Kvænangen, Gáivuotna Kåfjord, Skjervøy and Storfjord municipality)

– Porsanger municipality

– Nesseby municipality in Finnmark

– Aja Sami Center

– Sami Language- and Culture Center in Porsanger

– Varanger Sami Museum

– Isak Saba-Center in Nesseby

– A few members of the Norwegian Samis National Association

– The Sami Council

– The Sami Accociation

– Sami Student Accociation in Tromsø

 

Purely by doing research from afar on this fascinating and secretive part of Norway, I realize how much there still is to discover, and I can hardly wait until I can visit!

 

Stay tuned for more (regular) blogpost!

The Idea

Hello. Over the next couple of months, more specifically from 1st of June to 27th of September, I will report here the process of writing a master from the first idea to the fieldwork in the high North to the finished document. Coming from an environmentalist background, I knew early on that my master had to entail how the oil industry is affecting the changing climate. With the recent questioning of opening the Arctic for oil drilling a thesis started forming. While doing this master a growing interest in the indigenous people has formed and their immediate connectedness to the nature seemed inevitable to not include. How the ones who have contributed the least to climate change now suffers the most deserves the attention of the academic community and society at large.

On Tuesday this week I went to London to meet with one of my supervisors, Ilan Kelman, with a few questions written down. (We came in contact over a module where I did research on Arctic indigenous and he represented an organization called ‘Many Strong Voices’ that works with how the indigenous people of the Arctic and small island developing states share many of the same vulnerabilities but also strengths. Many Strong Voices builds bridges between people who would normally not have met, so they stand stronger together in the UN’s climate negotiations) What I would like to seek the answers of is: 

– How the opening of oil drilling in the Arctic will affect the indigenous people living there?

– What type of resilience do they posses when dealing with an oil leakage?

– Can any of their indigenous knowledge be applied towards how to strengthen their resilience?

– How the indigenous would become climate refugees if their land and water became impossible to live by

– On the different forms of disaster reductions that can reduce an oil leakage in the Arctic

After telling Ilan that I intend to do field research he concluded that this is more realistic on a student friendly budget when it is done within the limits of Norway. The other factor for limitations when it came to why not studying the indigenous of Denmark with Greenland or Canada, we discussed their oil politics in the Arctic, and concluded that Norway as an oil nation is more interesting, and also Norway has not yet physically started drilling for oil in the South-East Barents Sea, which is the controversial area that was recently opened up after a hasty concession round in november 2013. We had then limited it down to involve the indigenous people of Norway, the Sami, but as I wanted to study the ones who will be most affected by a possible oil spill I chose the Coastal Sami. There is little research done on this, which makes it all the more exciting. 

Then and there after merely 10 minutes a master thesis was formulated – ‘Consequences for the Coastal Sami of an Arctic oil spill.’

But I had more questions;

– Can I include how the ocean and underwater ecosystems will be affected? – Yes.

– Can I use the deep ecology movement as formulated by Arne Næss as a theoretical basis? – If the university agrees then yes.

As this got to be a very enthusiastic conversation Ilan reminded me of something crucial – that while writing this masters I am purely an objective scientist with no predisposition towards either the oil industry or the environment or the indigenous. The future of this work depends on this. So possible enthusiastic outburst over positive findings will therefor be articulated on this blog instead.  

What I can reveal so far on what is going to happen is the planning of the field work, a journey to the North this summer and hopefully a lot of unexpected findings and smaller revelations. I look very much forward to get started, but first I need to write my final exam for this university before the master can start on the 1st of June. I will update as often as I have interesting stories.

My aspirations for this masters is that it will draw new connections and put the future of the Coastal Samis on the agenda in Norway and that they will be an important part of the equation when Norway discusses the question whether we should take part in Arctic oil drilling.