Italian oil company Eni could finally start up oil production at its Goliat field in the Barents Sea over the weekend, two years after its scheduled debut. The project is welcomed in some quarters at a time when Norway’s oil-fueled economy is struggling, but the Barents remains disputed territory where lawsuits loom because of environmental and climate concerns.
The Goliat field, using a round floating production and storage (FPSO) platform with capacity for nearly a million barrels of oil, is the first oil field in the Barents to actually go into production, notes Andreas Wulff of Eni Norge. Goliat now ranks as the world’s northernmost offshore oil field.
“This is an historic day for the company, the industry, the nation and not least Northern Norway,” Wulff told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) after the company opened Goliat’s wells on Saturday evening and had oil on board later that night.
The Goliat field, delayed because of myriad problems with the FPSO and regulatory challenges, is expected to produce 100,000 barrels of oil a day. It’s been considered a pilot project in the Barents “and such pilot projects run into challenges,” Wulff told DN. He claimed, though, that most of the challenges have since been addressed, with new “solutions” found for extracting oil and gas in Arctic areas “that the entire industry can use.”
Eni operates the field with a 65 percent stake in its license while Norway’s own Statoil holds the other 35 percent. Eni notes how the entire Goliat project has contributed to business development in Hammerfest, which lies 85 kilometers southeast of the field, and calculates that it has generated contracts worth about NOK 1.3 billion for Norwegian companies, along with around 450 jobs in Finnmark County.
“This is a fantastic good feeling and there’s a good mood out on the platform, at the operating office in Hammerfest and here in Stavanger,” Wulff said.
More challenges loom
The mood is not good in other quarters more concerned with climate change and the environment. The Goliat project and others like it in sensitive Arctic areas remain highly contested by environmental and climate activists, and now they’re gearing for more legal challenges to efforts by the state to open up new Norwegian offshore areas in the Barents to oil exploration and production.
“If Norway fires the starting gun for an oil race in the Arctic, it will be pure sabotage of the climate goals approved in Paris,” says Aleksander Melli, leader of a group preparing to sue the Norwegian government if and when it doles out new exploration or operating licenses in the Barents. Melli told DN that the group will fight such licensing in court.
They’re backed by a Norwegian attorney authorized to argue before the Supreme Court, Pål Wergeland Lorentzen. He’s promising the “lawsuit of the century” to block the government’s plans to grant 57 new exploration licenses in both the Norwegian and Barents seas as part of the 23rd concession round.
The diverse group consists of everyone from a grandmother, two authors, three youthful activists and the leader of Greenpeace in Norway, in turn backed by influential academics and high-profile cultural figures. They intend to challenge the government, the Parliament and Norway’s powerful oil industry over their plans to exploit areas so far north.
They’re by no means alone, DN reported, in mounting legal challenges as part of efforts to reverse climate change. “Oil, gas and coal are the new tobacco,” attorney Muriel Moody Korol at the Center for International Environmental Law in Washington DC told DN over the weekend. Lorentzen, hired by Greenpeace Norge on a pro bono basis, is ready to take on the oil companies just like attorneys before him took on the tobacco companies.
The lawsuit, Lorentzen predicted, “will highlight the strong opposition (to Arctic oil activity) in Norwegian society. The state won’t see any limits to the resources that can be mobilized.” The oil branch will take on a major role, as will the offshore industry along with municipalities and others who see a future for the oil business in the far north, Lorentzen said, but so will nearly 20 environmental organizations, other lawyers and law professors, seven former government ministers and a long list of celebrities in Norway who already have launched protests against Arctic exploration and production. All of them support a massive lawsuit against the state, if the oil industry is allowed to move farther north.
Oil Minister Tord Lien responded through the ministry’s communications department that he will address such a lawsuit if and when it’s filed. He also noted that there was “broad support” in Parliament for the 23rd concession round, which has attracted great industry interest.