Mixed reaction after well comes up dry

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Climate and environmental activists were jubilant and a German oil company  disappointed after it abandoned a highly controversial offshore oil drilling project this week. Oil firm Wintershall DEA confirmed that it failed to find enough oil to justify the costs of developing the field near the Træna reef.

Fredric Hauge of the environmental organization Bellona had strongly opposed the oil exploration project near the Træna reef off the coast of Helgeland, monitoring its progress and, ultimately, lack thereof. PHOTO: Natur og Ungdom/Henrik Lande Andersen

“We found a little oil, but less than we’d expected,” Kjetil Hjertvik, information chief for Wintershall, told state broadcaster NRK. The company thus decided to give up drilling for more oil near the Træna reef around 150 kilometers southeast of Bodø, at least for now.

“We had great faith in the field, and that we’d find oil,” Hjertvik added. “We drilled down to what we thought was a reservoir, without finding what we’d hoped for.” Wintershall opted to plug the well, and the large West Hercules drilling rig chartered in for the exploration project has left the site.

Prospects for finding new oil in the area had been considered among the most promising on the Norwegian Continental Shelf this year. The failed project is thus also a blow for oil-related industry in Nordland County that had hoped for more business.

‘Great day’ for the environment
Climate, environmental and fishing industry organizations that had tried in vain to halt the drilling project, meanwhile, were both delighted and relieved. “This is a great day for the environment and for everyone living along the Helgeland coast, in Lofoten and Vesterålen,” declared Frederic Hauge, long-time leader of the environmental group Bellona. He’d been at the forefront of the opposition to oil exploration and production near unique coral reefs and rich fishing grounds.

Bellona, Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth) and the local fishing organization Norges Kystfiskarlag had appealed to state officials to prevent drilling in the area, fearing that any oil spills or other accidents would have catastrophic consequences. There’s also strong opposition in Norway to all new and existing oil projects, because of the carbon emissions they generate. Norway has failed for years to meet its emission reduction goals, mostly because of its oil industry.

Demonstrated at sea
Bellona and Natur og Ungdom had also launched their first demonstrations at sea in years, after their last appeals were rejected by the Climate and Environment Minister led by Ola Elvestuen of the Liberal Party. They ultimately had to give up a protest action near the drilling rig because of bad weather in the area, but Bellona had continued to follow the rig’s operations.

“The results of this drilling should make it easier to include the (Træna) area in the management plans for Lofoten and the Baretns Sea, so that fish, seabirds and coral will get the necessary protection in the future,” Hauge said.

The oil industry’s trade association in the area, Petro Arctic, disagrees. “We have authorities in Norway who make strict demands, and we have an oil industry that’s responsible,” Per Giæver of Petro Arctic told NRK. “Of all the 1,100 exploration projects in Norway since 1966 we have never had a single spill that’s reached land.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund