An ongoing debate between local conservationists and the oil industry could become moot if UNESCO adds the scenic Lofoten islands to its list of World Heritage sites. Erik Solheim, Norway’s cabinet minister for environmental issues, was greeted with overwhelming opposition to plans for oil exploration and drilling in the area when he visited Lofoten recently.
A coalition of local mayors emphatically told Solheim that they were against any offshore drilling. Local environmental activists enthusiastically backed this position. Solheim himself was sceptical that the drilling would go through, but made it clear that the government has not made a formal decision yet.
Solheim added that if UNESCO were to add Lofoten to its list, any prospects of future oil drilling would be ruled out. Fishermen are concerned that oil exploration tests would drive the fish population away. Kjell Olav Halland from the Coastal Fishermen’s Union wants the Norwegian government to conduct more research into the effects of oil drilling on fisheries.
Oil companies are using experts to support their own position, and Halland would like to see the government put in an equal effort to provide a fair, objective evaluation. He made the point that the oil industry will only be in business for a few decades, but fishing in the Lofoten islands has been a local tradition for more than 1,000 years.