During recent weeks the Norwegian seismic vessel Artemis Atlantic has started mapping the disputed continental shelf around Svalbard. The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) commissioned the survey, which is causing discord between the coalition government and its member partners.
The coalition agreement – which in this case is pitting the Conservative and Progress parties against the Christian Democratic and Liberal parties – states that it will not initiate petroleum-related activity in the Svalbard zone.
'Not petroleum activity'
The NPD, which initiated the seismic surveying, is not calling it petroleum activity.
"One of the petroleum directorate's tasks is to map unopened areas on the Norwegian Continental Shelf," said Eldbjørg Vaage Melberg, chief spokesperson for the NPD. "That's what we are doing in the Svalbard zone. It is a clean mapping."
Her argument is supported by Conservative Party member Nikolai Astrup, a member of the Energy and Environment Committee.
"The coalition agreement is very clear that we will not be open for petroleum activities in these areas," he told TV2. "It means the government does not and we have no plans to. But it is in the public interest that we collect the most information about Norwegian territory, including offshore."
The environmental organization Greenpeace, however, is declaring it has no doubts about what Norwegian authorities are doing in the Svalbard zone.
"This is petroleum activity," said Truls Gulowsen, head of Greenpeace Norway.
He justifies his conclusion by asserting that petroleum resources are the only purpose for this type of seismic mapping. The surveying required for reasons other than petroleum resources, Gulowsen claimed, has already been done in the area many years ago.
Greenpeace stated earlier this week that it was on its way to the area where the activity takes place, but did not confront the ship.
"The seismic vessel has gone to the harbor, probably to refuel," Gulowsen said. "It is an excellent opportunity for politicians to stop this unnecessary and harmful activity."
Must talk together
Liberal Party member Ola Elvestuen, who was in Longyearbyen this week (see separate article), is not hesitant to classify the seismic surveying as petroleum-related activity. He said he will now talk to the government to get a complete clarification about things.
"First, we must get an explanation from the government about why the petroleum directorate is engaged in the Svalbard zone," Elvestuen said. "Then we need to talk about how the coalition agreement shall be interpreted."
"If it is true that the directorate has started seismic surveys in the area on their own, without notifying the political leadership, it is nothing less than sensational," he added.
The plan calls for seismic surveying in the Svalbard zone to end in mid-September.