Norwegian Academics: Arctic Drilling is Illegal


Published May 10, 2016 8:11 PM by The Maritime Executive

Two Norwegian law professors, Beate Sjåfjell and Anita Halvorssen, have assessed national and international law and concluded that Norway does not have the right to proceed with its ambitious petroleum plans in Arctic waters.

Their reasoning is explained in the publication Is oil and gas extraction in the Arctic legal? The report was published by the Norwegian Climate Foundation and focuses particularly on Norway and considers international law to argue that large-scale oil and gas production would be contrary to the United Nations Climate Convention (UNFCCC), general environmental principles, the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), the Biodiversity Convention and international human rights treaties and declarations, including the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It would also be contrary to E.U. Treaties' objectives of sustainable development. 

At national level, the Norwegian constitution was amended in May 2014 with a clarification of the government's obligations under environmental regulation. This change means that the Norwegian population, on their own or on behalf of future generations, are given the greater opportunity to enforce their right to a livable environment. 

The discussion of the issue of new and extensive oil and gas projects in the Arctic in light of Norway's international obligations and the reinforced constitutional provision, led the report authors to the conclusion that large-scale oil and gas extraction in the Arctic is unlawful. 

Known oil and gas resources must remain under the ground, said the Norwegian Climate Foundation in a statement. “We must refrain from extracting fossil fuels extracted using the most polluting methods and in the most vulnerable areas, where exploitation could lead to the greatest negative impact on the environment and human rights, and contribute to the greatest climate change. By letting Norwegian fossil industry continue on a large scale will be impossible to comply with Norway's obligations to ensure a livable environment. An obvious first boundary would be to refrain from oil and gas extraction in the Arctic (along with unconventional extraction methods, such as the tar sands in Canada).”

Norway therefore cannot legally distribute licenses for the extraction of fossil fuels in the areas of the Arctic that are under Norwegian jurisdiction, states the group. The Norwegian government is also, as majority shareholder, Statoil is committed to prevent Statoil apply for or use any licenses in other Arctic areas.

According to Sjåfjell and Halvorssen there could be good chances for a win in the Norwegian Supreme Court if the case went to trial. The authors argue that rather than allow a new growth in oil and gas should provide incentives for turning towards renewable energy in the Arctic states.

The report comes as Norway is doing last preparations for its 23rd License Round, a process which includes as many as 57 license blocks in the High North. All the new blocks are located in northern waters, 54 of them in the Barents Sea and the remaining three in the Norwegian Sea, reports the Independent Barents Observer. The winners of the licenses will be announced in June, and 26 companies are bidding.  

Environmental organization Nature and Youth has announced that it will sue the Norwegian state if it proceeds with the 23rd License Round.

The report is available in Norwegian here.