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No. 438: Disko West – an updated strategic environmental impact assessment of oil and gas activities

Boertmann, D. & Mosbech, A. 2020. Disko West – an updated strategic environmental impact assessment of oil and gas activities. Scientific Report from DCE – Danish Centre for Environ-ment and Energy No. 438, 384 pp. http://dce2.au.dk/pub/SR438.pdf

Summary and conclusions

 

This report is an update of a previous strategic environmental impact assessment of oil and gas activities in the waters off Disko Island in West Greenland (Boertmann et al. 2013). The covered area is termed as the Disko West assessment area and is situated between 67° N in the south and 72° N in the north and extends to the border of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) (Figure 1). The update is justified by the opening of the area for ‘open door’ applications in September 2020, however postponed to November 2020 due to the Corona situation.

 

The update is based on new research in the area and on all the new infor- mation from international literature on oil spill response, effects etc., which have been published since the previous edition, and of which much is from the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon incidents in the US in 1989 and 2010 respectively.

 

The report is prepared by DCE – Danish Center for Environment and En- ergy and Greenland Institute of Natural Resources (GINR), and funded by the Government of Greenland: The former Ministry of Industry, Energy, Science and Labour (today Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Energy) and the Environ- mental Agency for Mineral Resource Activities (EAMRA).

 

The purpose of an SEIA is to provide updated information to the political de- cision processes including the authority evaluation of applications and regu- lation of activities related to exploration and exploitation of oil and gas. How- ever, the assessment do not assess the global climate impact of gasses released when potential oil and gas from Greenland fields is burned by consumers. The presented information is moreover available to the companies operating in Greenland, for example for the preparation of Environmental Impact As- sessments of their activities.

 

This SEIA is part of a series of five SEIA’s covering the waters off entire West Greenland and Northeast Greenland, and the SEIA covering the adjacent wa- ters to the south – the Davis Strait area – is also under updating.

 

The SEIA describes the environment – the physical rather briefly – and the biological in more detail. It describes nature conservation, threatened spe- cies and the human use of the living resources. It also gives a summary of contaminant levels as far as they are known. Based on that information, the potential environmental impacts of oil and gas activities (incl. oil spills) in the region is assessed. Finally the report identify research needs to be addressed to improve the data base for environmental impact assessments, authority regulation oil spill response etc. 

The different activities in a full life cycle of an oil field are briefly described and the environmental impacts of activities are as far as possible evaluated. However, as no oil have been exploited yet in Greenland and location of possible oil fields are unknown, it is difficult to evaluate effects and impacts from such activities, and the descriptions rely on experience from areas as similar as possible to the Greenland environment. These include the two large oil spills in the US (Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon). The Norwegian SEIA of oil and gas activities in the Barents Sea (Anonymous 2003) and the Oil and Gas Assessment by Arctic Council (AMAP 2010).

Due to the sea ice and weather conditions, exploration activities generally will take place in summer and autumn (June to November), while production will be a year round activity. 

The Environment

The assessment area is situated in the Arctic zone and has the typical arctic biological traits. That is a relatively low biodiversity, a food web with few levels and some areas with very high densities of organisms. The benthos communities are an exception, having a very high biodiversity. The in general low biodiversity is counteracted by some species being extremely abundant, some of these are key species in the ecology of the area, which means that the entire system is dependent of their presence. A characteristic trait is the high lipid content in many organisms. This may act as isolation towards the cold surroundings and also as energy reserve for periods when feeding is not possible. This high lipid content is significant in relation to contaminants in the environment, because many of these are lipophilic and can accumulate in the adipose tissues. 

Overall, the assessment area is very rich in an Arctic biological/ecological context; the primary production in spring is high, the benthos communities are well developed and there are many seabirds and marine mammals. 

Physical conditions

The physical conditions are briefly described with focus on oceanography and and ice condition. The assessment area is usually almost ice covered in winter and spring, and icebergs are numerous especially in Disko Bay. 

There are open water areas along the coast in winter south of Disko Bay caused by strong tidal currents and offshore the drift ice is dynamic and open waters are found in cracks and leads. The open water areas in winter have high biological significance (seabirds and marine mammals) and are sensitive to oil spills and disturbing activities. 

The shelf is wide, up to 120 km in the southern part of the assessment area. There is deep ocean to the west of the shelf and it is also traversed by deep troughs. Upwelling is strong along edges of the shelf, facilitating a high primary production, which supports the rich ecology. 

Biology

The primary production in the assessment area is high in the spring especially along the marginal ice zone (MIZ), in the early ice free areas and along the shelf break, where it also continue into the summer facilitated by upwelling. Next level in the food web is the zooplankton, and among these, the large species of Calanus are very abundant. They are perennial and have a fixed annual cycle, where they in summer are in the surface waters and in winter in deep waters near the seabed. These Calanus species are key species as they are extremely important as food for larger zooplankton, fish, seabirds and baleen whales. Concentrations areas for the Calanus are important feeding areas for seabirds and bowhead whales and are located along the west side of Store Hellefiskebanke, on Disko Banke and in Disko Bay.

Macroalgae (kelp) is abundant along the coastline where hard substrate is present and they are found in waters as deep as 61 m. The marcoalgae forests are important as nursery ground for fish and as food for various organisms. In Disko Fjord, particularly a rare red algae is found on soft and muddy seabed. These are large loose-lying coralline red algae, rhodoliths, with diameters of up to 13 cm. 

Since the previous edition of the SEIA, much new knowledge on seabed fauna (benthos) have been obtained in the assessment area by Greenland Institute of Natural Resources. The diversity is very high (900 species so far) and so is the variation between the benthic communities on the seabed. Species characterizing a seabed fauna vulnerable to deep sea trawling (VME’s Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems, cf. FAO 2008) have been found several times, and recently a candidate for a VME area was located just south of the assessment area. VME’s have been designated on the Canadian side of Davis Strait, and areas fulfilling the VME criteria may also be identified in the assessment area. 

Regarding sea ice ecology, there is new knowledge available, both in more general terms and from the assessment area. 

The fish fauna in the assessment area are dominated by demersal species, where Greenland halibut is found in deep waters on the continental slope and in fjords. It does not spawn inside the assessment area, and the population is recruited from areas outside by larvae transported by the currents. Sandeel are numerous on the banks, where it is an important food item (see Box 3). Sandeel spawn in summer in contrast to almost all other marine fish in Green- land waters, which spawn in winter and spring. 

In coastal waters, two important species spawn in spring: Lumpsucker and capelin. The capelin is a key species, as it occurs in dense schools and is an important food item for both seabirds and marine mammals. Arctic char also occur in coastal waters in summer, while they move into rivers and lakes for the winter. 

Another ecological key species is the polar cod, which mainly is found in the northern part of the assessment area, and which is a pelagic species associated with the sea ice especially in the first life stages. 

Among large crustaceans, the northern shrimp and the snow crab are common in the assessment area and both are important fishery resources, the shrimp actually the most important in Greenland. 

There are many seabirds in the assessment area, both winter and summer. Since the previous edition of the SEIA, new knowledge have been obtained by tracking the movements of individual birds. Especially from breeding sites outside the assessment area, studies have been carried out in the murre colony at Appat/Ritenbenk and an aerial survey of wintering seabirds was carried out in 2017. 

In total, 16 species of seabirds breed on the coasts of the assessment area. Most of these are colonial, breeding on steep cliffs (bird cliffs) or on low islands (bird islands). There are several important seabird colonies in the assessment area: The most impressive is the bird cliff at Appat/Ritenbenk, where i.e. thick-billed murres and black-legged kittiwakes breed, the islands of Grønne Ejlande, with Greenland’s largest colony of Arctic tern and several rare species such as red phalarope and Ross’ gull. Several small island also hold colonies of Atlantic puffins. Some of the seabirds breeding in the area are included in the national red list of threatened species, and especially the population of thick-billed murres on the Appat cliff is decreasing. 

The assessment area is also of importance to non-breeding populations of sea- birds in the summer and autumn. Seaducks, especially males and nonbreeders assemble in remote fjords and bays to moult, and become flightless for a couple of weeks. King eiders are the most numerous, and these birds arrive from breeding sites in Arctic Canada. Also of red-breasted mergansers, longtailed ducks and harlequin ducks assemble on specific moulting localities. 

In winter seabirds are numerous in the open water areas and in some specific areas covered with drift ice. The most important species is the king eider, and around one million birds stay in the drift ice on the Store Hellefiskebanke in the winter. These are birds which breed in Arctic Canada. Other numerous species in winter include common eider and thick-billed murre. 

In spring and autumn, high numbers of seabirds migrate through the assessment area, the most numerous are thick-billed murre, little auk, black-legged kittiwake and northern fulmar.  

Among the marine mammals there are five species of seals, walrus, 14 species of whales and polar bear in the assessment area. Since the previous edition of this SEIA, new knowledge on polar bear population size and their utilization of the assessment area have been published. Also for walrus there is new information on use and population size, and for harp seal, hooded seal and several whales, new data on population size have been published. 

Hooded seal and harp seal are common in the assessment area in the ice free period. They whelp outside the assessment area. Ring seal and bearded seal are also common and are present in the assessment area year round. The fifth seal is the harbour seal, which today is very rare. 

The walrus have a very important winter habitat on Store Hellefiskebanke. This population spend the summer around Baffin Island in Canada, and the winter in the shallow areas (< 100 m) of Store Hellefiskebanke. The population here was recently estimated at 1400 individuals. 

Three of the whales are “winter whales” occurring in the area from October to June. White whale (beluga) have a very important winter habitat on Store Hellefiskebanke. Narwhals arrive to Uummannaq Fjord and Disko Bay in the early winter. In the central Baffin Bay (in an area shared by Greenland and Canada) narwhals from Canadian and Greenland summer habitats spend the winter. This Baffin Bay concentration is probably the largest assembly of narwhals in the world. The third winter whale is the bowhead whale, which have an important spring habitat in the outer Disko Bay. 

The “summer whales” include the large baleen whales (blue, fin, minke and humpback), sperm whale and several other toothed whales. Harbour porpoise occur year round in the ice free waters. 

Polar bears are also associated to the winter ice, and are therefore most frequent in winter and spring. The majority of the bears in the assessment area belongs to the Baffin Bay population, which was estimated at 2800 individuals in 2017. Maternity dens have not been reported from assessment area.

Nature protection and threatened species

International designations

Six areas within the assessment area are designated as wetlands of international importance under the intergovernmental environmental treaty, the Convention on Wetlands (the Ramsar Convention). These areas are also known as Ramsar sites. Another international designation is the UNESCO World Heritage Site Ilulissat Icefjord. 

Other international fora (Arctic Council, UNESCO, BirdLife International) have identified other types of important ecological areas within the assessment area, e.g. an area including Store Hellefiskebanke and Disko Bay. 

National legislation

According to the Nature Protection Act, several areas are protected within the assessment area (Figure 59) and also seabird breeding colonies are protected from disturbing activities in the breeding season.

According to the act on raw materials some areas are identified as “important areas for wildlife” where activities in relation to mineral exploration are regulated, in order to minimise the disturbance on sensitive birds and mam- mals. These areas include for example the seabird breeding colonies. Offshore seismic surveys can also be regulated in certain areas to minimise impacts on narwhals and bowhead whales. 

Threatened species

Greenland issued in 2018 a new updated and enlarged list of threatened species – a red list. According to this, eight species of mammals and eleven birds occurring in the assessment area are evaluated as Near Threatened (NT) and Threatened (VU, EN, CR) (Table 7). The international red list from IUCN classify eight marine mammals and five birds from the assessment area as Near Threatened and Threatened (Table 9). 

Human impacts in the assessment area

The assessment area are impacted of several human activities and the SEIA gives a brief summary of some of these, as they can interact with the impact from oil and gas activities. 

Long range contamination

The levels of heavy metals (primary mercury) and POP’s (Persistent Organic Pollutants) are monitored coordinated by AMAP as they bio-accumulate in top predators including humans living from hunting and fishery. Especially mercury is a concern because the levels are relatively high and may increase in the assessment area. Lead have been decreasing and there are no temporal trend in Cadmium. The levels of POP’s are expected to decrease due to international regulation, but new contaminants are emerging from the industrialized areas in Europe, North America and Asia, and they appear also in Greenland.

 

The most toxic substances in oil are the PAH’s (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydro- carbons), but the levels are in general low in the assessment area, except close to harbours.

The most toxic substances in oil are the PAH’s (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydro- carbons). The levels of PAH’s are in general low in the assessment area, except for harbours. 

Plastic

Contamination with plastic is increasing. Micro plastic (< 5 mm) has been found everywhere in the Arctic environment including plankton and whales. Macro (> 25 mm) and meso (5-25 mm) plastic have been found in the stomach of fish, birds and whales, and seals and whales become entangled in fishing gear made of plastic. The sources of especially macro and meso plastic in the assessment area are to a large degree local, but plastic are also transported to Greenland by the currents. 

Other human activities

Important activities in the assessment area today include fishery – both commercial and on subsistence basis, hunting for birds and marine mammals, shipping and tourism. The impacts from these activities can interact with the impacts from oil and gas activities (cumulative impacts), and especially with the impacts from a large oil spill. 

Climate change

The temperature increases more in the Arctic (incl. Greenland) than at lower latitudes. In the assessment area, the sea ice is under reduction both tempo- rally and spatially. This impacts the life conditions for organisms associated the sea ice, with polar bear and ivory gull as the most prominent examples. On the other hand, will warmer waters and less ice improve the conditions for other species, such as many fish, minke whale and killer whale, which extend their ranges northwards. Increasing water temperatures also result in a shift of the large Arctic Calanus species with the less nutritious Atlantic Calanus species. 

Extensive changes in the ecosystems of the assessment area are therefore expected in the near future. This will imply both negative and positive impacts on the local human societies, and it will also mean that the descriptions and evaluations of this report will be outdated. To follow the changes, monitoring of and research in the ecosystems of the assessment area will be an important input to future ecosystem based management of the human activities. 

Cumulative impacts

When the impacts of oil and gas activities shall be assessed, it is important to include cumulative impacts. These occur both between oil and gas related activities (e.g. multiple seismic surveys either simultaneously or consecutive) and in combination with other human activities and climate change. 

Assessment of oil and gas activities in the Disko West assessment area.

See Summary Table 1, for an overview of potential impacts of oil and gas activities in the assessment area.

Exploration activities 

Exploration activities are temporary, will often be spread over the entire licence area and will in the assessment area take place in the ice free seasons (summer and autumn). If no viable finds are made, all activities will be terminated and equipment will be removed. Among the most significant impacts from exploration activities are disturbance for example from seismic surveys, drilling and transportation. Walrus, white whale and narwhal are particularly sensitive to disturbing and noisy activities, but as they are winter visitors to the assessment area there will be no or only a very short overlap with noisy exploration activities. A single seismic surveys will probably make whales like minke, fin and humpback to move out of the affected area while the survey takes place, while several surveys have the potential to cause more widespread and cumulative effects. 3D-seismic surveys, which are very intensive in restricted areas, will probably cause stronger effects, but more localised. Extensive seismic surveys may possibly also make Greenland halibut to leave the area, with reduced catches as a consequence. Studies of other fish species indicate that this effect is temporary, and during the seismic surveys in the early 2000s southwest of Disko, where a large part of the offshore fishery for this species takes place, no overall reduction in catches were recorded. Fish spawning areas and areas with high larvae concentrations are considered as vulnerable to seismic surveys. Most fish in the assessment area spawn before seismic season, high larvae concentrations are not known, why seismic surveys probably will not impact the fish stocks in the assessment area. 

The seismic surveys are in Greenland regulated in order not to physically harm marine mammals. Protection zones for specific whale species (narwhal and bow- head whale) and walrus have been identified in the assessment area. 

The noise from exploration drilling can disturb marine mammals (especially whales) on long ranges. Most whales will avoid affected areas and there is a risk for temporary displacement from important feeding grounds. 

The other significant impact from exploration activities is the release of waste materials. This concerns especially drilling mud and drill cuttings. Water based drilling mud is usually released to the seabed together with the cuttings, while oil based mud due to environmental concerns is brought to land to be treated. Water based mud can be environmentally acceptable to release, as long as the added chemicals are not hazardous and the area is not especially sensitive to sedimentation. The effects from sedimentation on the seabed will be localised to the surroundings of the well, where the fauna will be buried in mud and cut- tings. It is therefore important to place release sites where effects are low and for example not close cold water corals and sponge gardens. 

Another release of concern are the greenhouse gasses from fuel combustion, which is considerable for the drilling of an exploration well. The three wells drilled in 2010 in the Disko West area increased the Greenland greenhouse gas contribution that year with 15%. 

Development and production

It is difficult to assess impacts of development and production activities in the assessment area

Several activities during the development and productions phases have the potential to cause severe impacts on the environment. However, these impacts can be mitigated through thorough planning based on background information from the local environment, application of HSE-procedures (Health, Safety and Environment) and BAT (Best Available Technique) and BEP (Best Environmental Practice) and finally secured by strict authority regulation. There is however, a general lack of knowledge on cumulative and long-term impacts for example from the release of produced water even when applying the before mentioned initiatives. 

Produced water is by far the largest discharge to the environment, for example is the annual release on the Norwegian sector about 148 million m3. Even though produced water is cleaned and meet international standards, concern for long- term effects in the marine environment have been expressed. For example may produced water in ice covered waters accumulate under the sea ice and here affect eggs and larvae of the ecological key species polar cod. The best way to mitigate such effects is a zero discharge policy, where the produced water is re- injected. Another large release is drill cuttings and drilling mud as a result of the drilling of numerous new wells. In these phases the releases to the seabed will be substantially larger than during the drilling of a single exploration well (see above), and the impacts on the seabed will be much more extensive. 

Energy consumption during development and production is very high, and the establishment of an oil field in the assessment area will contribute significantly to the combined releases of greenhouse gasses from Greenland. For example do a large Norwegian field release almost three times as much than the current annual release in Greenland. 

Placement of infrastructure and the related disturbance can impact marine mammals so they permanently avoid the surroundings of an oil field. This is probably most serious for narwhal, white whale, bowhead whale and walrus, while seals usually are much less sensitive. Likewise will sensitive seabed communities (such as VME’s) be vulnerable to installation on the seabed – e.g. pipelines. 

Infrastructure on land may cause aesthetical impacts, a factor to be aware of in relation to tourism. 

Traffic between oil fields and land will be strongly intensified both with helicopters and ships. Especially helicopters have a high scaring potential, and the disturbance can be reduced by establishing fixed routes and flying altitudes. 

The fishery near installations such as rigs and pipelines will be limited of protections zones, usually 500 m. 

The intensive shipping at a producing oil field increases the risk of introducing non-native and invasive species (Aquatic Nuisance Species – ANS). This has so far been a minor problem in the Arctic, but climate change increase the risk, and it is important that the international rules (IMO) for treatment of ballast water will be followed. 

Oil spill

A large oil spill is the most harmful incidents to the marine environment in relation to oil and gas exploration and exploitation. The sources of large oil spills are either loss of well control (blowout) or wreck of tanker ships. The probability of such an incident is low, and the global trend in spilled amounts of oil is decreasing. Nevertheless, the risk is evident and the environmental impacts from a large spill can be severe and long-lasting, particularly in an Arctic environment such as the assessment area, where the risk is increased mainly because of the presence of icebergs and winter ice. 

Danish Meteorological Institute (DMI) modelled the drift from seven spill sites in the assessment area (Figure 92). The results showed that oil from spill sites near the coast could affect coastal areas, while oil from spill sites far from the coast remained offshore. Oil spills in coastal areas are usually considered as more harmful than offshore spills, because the oil tend to stay in bays and fjords and toxic concentration can reach the seabed and because the biodiversity is high and concentrations of organisms can be affected. The coastal environment is also important as hunting and fishing ground for the local citizens. 

An oil spill in winter can be trapped in the sea ice and transported over long ranges without being degraded and therefore affect areas far from the spill site, although sea ice also can limit the spread acting as a barrier. 

There are, in the assessment area, offshore areas very sensitive to oil spills. This apply to Store Hellefiskebanke, where king eiders (1 million birds in a restricted area) and walruses (from a small discrete stock) spend the winter in cracks and lead of the drift ice. Front zones and up-welling areas where the primary production is intensive, may also be offshore areas particularly sensitive to oil spills – especially if it is a subsea spill as at the Deepwater Horizon incident in 2010. A study modelling the oil concentrations in the water column over Store Hellefiskebanke, showed that toxic concentrations could cover as much as 30% of the bank area after a spill.

 The report concludes that a large oil spill in the assessment area has the potential to impact the entire ecology in the area, but it will off course depend on oil type, spill site, weather conditions etc. In a worst case situation, effects will be long-term and most likely longer than after the Exxon Valdez-incident in 1989 in Alaska, because of the Arctic conditions. Local populations of seabirds and marine mammals will be reduced and fishery and hunting will be impossible for a period in areas hit by oil. 

Among the fish, the Greenland halibut stock will probably not be affected by a large oil spill, due to the water depth, but the fishery for the species may be stopped for a period. In winter the polar cod can be affected if oil accumulate under the sea ice, where polar cod egg and larvae concentrate and a high mortality may occur. There are, however, no information on polar cod spawning areas available. 

Seabirds are particularly vulnerable to oil spills on the surface, and many seabird concentrations in the assessment area will have increased mortality if hit by a large oil spill. 

Also marine mammals can be affected by surface oil spills. Walrus is particularly vulnerable to direct oiling as a large fraction of the populations is assembled in a small area. Seals and whales are vulnerable to inhalation of oil vapours over an oiled surface, and where seals and whales (narwhals, white whales, walrus) forced to surface in oil covered waters in drift ice will be particular exposed. How large fractions of the populations which potentially would be affected is unknown.

Polar bears are vulnerable to direct oiling, because they may ingest oil from the fur when cleaning it and oil is toxic to them. They may also ingest oil from oil contaminated prey, or become oiled when crossing open waters between ice floes. 

Fishery and hunting can be affected when oil impacted areas are closed for these activities. Such closures have in other oil impacted areas lasted for several months and up to almost two years. 

A blowout on the shelf/banks will result in oil on the sea surface, even if it is pouring out from the seabed. However, in the deep waters west of the shelf, there will be a risk of oil sequestered in the water column, like it happened during the Deepwater Horizon spill, and this may affect especially primary production and zooplankton. 

See Summary table 1 for an overview of effects of oil spills in the assessment area.

Mitigation and oil spill response

Environmental impacts from oil and gas activities shall be mitigated by including detailed background knowledge on the environment in the planning of the activities. This shall be combined with BAT, BEP, international standards (e.g. OSPAR) and guidelines (Arctic Council) to ensure that pollution from discharges to sea and atmosphere are kept within acceptable limits and minimise the risk of accidents. The authority regulation of the activities shall also be based on detailed background knowledge, which allows for exchanging the precautionary principle with empirical knowledge to the benefit of both operators and the environment. 

Oil spill contingency and response

Large oil spills shall be prevented by applying the highest health, safety and environmental standards (HSE) combined with the highest technical standards (BEP and BAT). However, the risk of oil spills is always present and a fast, robust and efficient oil spill response must be in place to counteract spilled oil. Three methods have been used to counter act oil spills. Mechanical recovery, chemical dispersion and in situ burning. 

Mechanical recovery was not efficient during the two large oil spills in the US. The method is moreover difficult to apply in harsh weather conditions and when the oil is to be recovered from waters with ice. It is moreover labour demanding and requires extensive logistics. 

Chemical dispersion requires fast response before the oil is too weathered to be dispersed. Ice and cold conditions can extend the operational window for dispersion. Dispersion transfer the oil from the surface to the water column, where it can affect organism, which would not be affected from surface oil. The different methods requires a comparative analysis of environmental pros and cons, a SIMA (Spill Impact Mitigation Assessment) before they can be applied. Dispersion will also facilitate natural degradation of the oil, which in Greenland waters, however, seems to be very slow, because of low nutrient availability. 

In situ burning has proven promising under arctic conditions, where stable ice can act as barrier to oil on the surface. The method has however, only been tried under test conditions, and it is questionable if it can be applied in dynamic drift ice, such as the sea ice in the assessment area.

The three response methods has their own environmental impacts. Mechanical recovery can in coastal habitats impact flora and fauna, dispersing agents have their own toxic impacts and in situ burning sends large amounts of soot into the atmosphere and leaves residues on surface and seabed. These environmental impacts shall be weighed to the impacts from the oil itself, on a strategic level (Environment & Oil Spill Response tool, EOS), and in an operational situation by a SIMA. 

DCE and Greenland Institute of Natural Resources’ recommendations on area restrictions

The DCE and GINR recommendations on area restrictions for oil exploration (hydrocarbon licenses) in the strategy period (2020-2024) are based on three selection criteria: 1) Areas already appointed as especially valuable areas on a national scale, in terms of ecological and biological value and sensitivity to oil spills, or new valuable and sensitive areas identified in this assessment, 2) the distance of a license area to the coast and the sensitivity of the coastline, because it is difficult to protect the coast in a nearshore spill and 3) the probability of ice, because effective oil spill methods in drift ice do not exist. Moreover have there been increased international concern for the environmental implications of oil industry activities in Arctic ice-covered waters. 

In the Disko West assessment area the Store Hellefiskebanke/Disko Bay was selected as an especially valuable area on a national scale (Figure 95). DCE and GINR moreover recommend to consider a coastal protection zone corresponding to zone used in northern mainland Norway (35 km off the baseline, Figure 95). Concerning the ice cover, the entire assessment area are north of the Norwegian limits for opening for oil exploration (Figure 96). 

On the basis of these three criteria (primarily 3/), the fact that there are no proven methods available for handling major oil spill in drift ice and in winter darkness, DCE/GINR recommend to consider not to open the Disko West assessment area for oil exploration in the present strategy period (2020-2024), to be in line with high international (primarily Norwegian) environmental standards.