Norway Debates Over Snow White Field Development

Norway's parliament is debating over a plan to develop its first natural gas field in the Barents Sea. Approval of the plan is expected very shortly. Most of the 165-member parliament are expected to vote for the landmark NOK 46 billion Snow White gas project off the northern tip of Norway despite environmental worries. Opponents are concerned that the development plan will harm the delicate ecosystem in the Arctic region and add to Norway's emissions of greenhouse gases. The members that support the development of the Snow White project contend that it will be safe for wildlife and that its gas will replace the more polluting coal in export markets like the United States or Spain.

Statoil will lead the development. "We must not forget that oil and gas activity has been the basis of our welfare for several decades," said Leif Frode Onarheim, head of parliament's energy committee that wants development of Snow White. "It is my pleasure to recommend the development of Snoehvit," he said on behalf of the center-right government. Norway is the world's number three oil exporter behind Saudi Arabia and Russia and pumps about three million barrels per day.

But Hallgeir Langeland, of the opposition Socialist Left Party, denounced the project as "strongly polluting." He said it would threaten vital fish resources in the icy Barents and add to greenhouse gas emissions. "We have not given up trying to stop Snoehvit," he said.

The Snow White field, the first to be developed in the Norwegian part of the Barents Sea, is expected to produce an annual 5.7 billion cubic meters of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) for 25 years after it comes on stream in 2006. The field will be developed as a sub-sea installation with onshore processing facilities near Hammerfest, which calls itself the world's northernmost town. The gas will be transported abroad in four special tankers.