OSLO, Norway, Oct. 19 (UPI) -- In response to a lawsuit brought by environmental groups, the Norwegian government said there were no grounds to support an about face on Arctic oil.
The Norwegian branch of Greenpeace joined regional advocate group Nature and Youth in a lawsuit that said decisions to open up the Arctic waters of the Barents Sea to energy companies violated the Paris climate agreement and national laws.
The Norwegian government opened up parts of the Barents Sea during its 23rd licensing round. Article 112 of the country's constitution states that all citizens have a right to expect that natural resources be used in such a way as to preserve natural surroundings.
In a statement sent to UPI, the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy said no laws were violated in the licensing round related to the Barents Sea.
"The licensing round was undertaken in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations, in line with long established practice and on the basis of sound facts and a democratic process involving all interested parties, thus ensuring that all relevant issues and considerations have been taken into account," the statement read.
In 2013, Greenpeace activists used the group's Arctic Sunrise vessel to board a drilling rig used by Russian energy company Gazprom in Arctic waters, a move the Kremlin said "had the appearance of extremist activity." The next year, however, the environmental group claimed victory after Norwegian energy company Statoil ended a campaign in the Hoop reserve area in the Arctic waters of the Barents Sea.
The Hoop reserve area is near Bear Island, a unique island ecosystem that Greenpeace said would be spoiled should a spill occur in the area.
Statoil in August said nevertheless it would extend its reach into the Barents Sea next year in an effort to replenish its exploration portfolio. The company already has a rig on contract suitable for operations in northern waters and said it's slated to drill up to seven wells in the region in 2017.
According to the Norwegian government, about half of the 18 billion barrels of oil equivalent yet to be discovered in is territorial waters are in the Barents Sea.