(June 14, 2010) It was reported on June 8, 2010, that Norway's Minister of Petroleum and Energy, Terje Riis-Johansen, has announced that, in connection with its 21st licensing round, currently underway, Norway “will not allow any deepwater oil and gas drilling in new areas until the investigation into the explosion and spill in the US Gulf of Mexico is complete.” He added, “[i]t is not appropriate for me to allow drilling in any new licences in deepwater areas until we have good knowledge of what has happened with the Deepwater Horizon [the Gulf of Mexico rig that exploded on April 20] and what this means for our regulations.” (Carola Hoyos, Norway Bans Deepwater Oil Drilling, THE FINANCIAL TIMES, June 8, 2010, available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/986a577e-72fb-11df-9161-00144feabdc0,dwp_uuid=
f2b40164-cfea-11dc-9309-0000779fd2ac.html [registration required for access].)
Norway's decision is reportedly the first of its kind outside the moratorium of seven-months imposed by the United States on deepwater drilling after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The decision to open new fields beneath the Lofoten Islands has pitted pro-oil elements of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg's Labor Party, who favor drilling for the estimated 1.3 billion barrels of oil there to offset declining output from the North Sea fields, against pro-environment members of the centre-left coalition, who wish to protect the Islands and their cod-spawning areas. (Id.; Andrew Ward, Norway to Learn Gulf Spill Lessons, THE FINANCIAL TIMES, June 7, 2010, available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0ddd75f6-722d-11df-a0fd-00144feabdc0,dwp_uuid=
Similar decisions may have to be made in the near future over potential oil reserves in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean, now that Norway has resolved (in April) a 40-year-old maritime border dispute with Russia. The signing of the agreement, which will cover 175,000 square kilometers of ocean, may occur this autumn in Moscow. It is described as “a breakthrough in efforts to settle several overlapping international claims on the Arctic seabed amid intensifying focus on a region estimated by the US Geological Survey to hold a quarter of the world's undiscovered oil and natural gas.” (Ward, supra.)
Also on June 8, the United Kingdom's Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) announced that, in light of the U.S. oil spill, the DECC would double inspections and consider tightening other regulations. DECC Secretary Chris Huhne stated:
Given the beginning of exploration in deeper waters west of Shetland, there is every reason to increase our vigilance. Initial steps are already under way, including plans to double the number of annual environmental inspections by the Department of Energy and Climate Change to drilling rigs and the launch of a new industry group to look at the UK's ability to prevent and respond to oil spills.
(Carola Hoyos,UK to Double Inspections of Drilling Rigs, THE FINANCIAL TIMES, June 8, 2010, available at http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/2b2449ce-7286-11df-9f82-00144feabdc0.html.)