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Last Updated: Monday, 24 November, 2003, 12:05 GMT
Norway urged to reject oil plans
By Helen Briggs
BBC News Online

Image: WWF-Norway
Cormorants and puffins nest on the islands
The Lofoten Islands, within the Arctic Circle, should be a no-go area for the oil industry, the World Wide Fund for Nature warns.

Oil drilling could be catastrophic to whales and other wildlife, it says.

Oslo is due to make a decision next month on whether to let oil companies exploit the area.

"WWF wants to see this unique area protected by the Norwegian Government, not destroyed by them," the group says.

Natural paradise

The Lofoten islands are a large group of islands off the North West coast of Norway.

Image: WWF-Norway
The islands rely on fishing and tourism
They are home to the world's largest cod and herring stocks, shoals of sperm and killer whales and extensive sea bird colonies.

The waters also contain the world's biggest cold water coral reef, which was discovered and protected only last year.

"The marine environment of the Lofoten Islands is one of the most wildlife-rich areas in the world," says Dr Simon Walmsley, senior marine policy officer for WWF-UK.

"Oil drilling there would destroy this unique cold water habitat, and it will not even provide a significant number of new jobs. This is not acceptable."

'Major risk'

WWF is concerned that oil development would not only endanger wildlife but disrupt tourism and fishing, on which the island community relies.

It says the Norwegian governments' own scientists believe the impact of oil development - from seismic survey work, which can disturb fish and whales, to the risk of an oil spill - would be disastrous to this sensitive marine environment.

"The Lofoten Islands are the heart of the spawning area for the large Arctic Norwegian cod stock living in the Barents Sea," says Ole Arve Misund, head of department at the Institute of Marine Research in Bergen, Norway.

"There is a major risk that this spawning area might be destroyed in the event of an oil spill. This is why we have advised against any oil development in the area."

Decision pending

But oil companies say the environmental impact would be minimal. Ola M Aanestad, a spokesman for the Norwegian Oil Industry Association, says they are aware the area has a high environmental value that needs special protection.

"We are ready to take on new ways of operating to meet stricter environmental requirements," he says.

The Norwegian Government has not yet made a decision on whether to allow oil companies to explore and produce oil in the Lofoten area.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Petroleum and Energy in Olso said it was considering the feedback from the public hearing.

"The decision will be made by the government in December," he told BBC News Online.

Images courtesy of WWF-Norway.

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