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25/01/2007 Petroleum activities could be the engine for economic development in northern Norway, argues Jarle Aarbakke. He heads the Norwegian government's committee of experts on the far north.
text: Ina Gundersen
Helping to meet the goal of a long-term and unified development of Norway's northernmost continental shelf represents a major challenge, says Mr Aarbakke, rector of the University of Tromsø.
"This work involves coordinating natural and human resources," he notes. "To achieve that, all 18 of the country's government ministries must cooperate - something never accomplished before."
"The far north represents Norway's most important priority area in the coming years," states the mandate for the committee he chairs.
"The government will take a broad approach to its work in this field. It will help to mobilise knowledge and expertise in northern Norway and in other national and international bodies working on far northern issues."
According to the mandate, the committee of experts is required to present proposals for shaping a unified Norwegian policy of this kind for the far north.
"We're a national committee, and will work with what we can control in our own country," says Mr Aarbakke. "We also plan to pursue bilateral and multilateral collaboration with other northern nations, particularly Russia."
Created in January 2006, the committee's mandate and composition will be subject to an evaluation after two years. It currently has 14 members appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
They represent varied interests and specialisations in the far north, and commercial development is an important part of their work, says Mr Aarbakke.
"We've devoted our time so far to collecting information and listening to specialists on issues relating to oil and gas - exploration, processing and further development of technology. We've also been working on climatic and environmental aspects."
"Petroleum is an important issue in relation to the far north," says NPD director Bente Nyland, who sits on the committee. "My job there includes identifying the challenges involved.
"At the NPD, I'm responsible for looking at new opportunities on the Norwegian continental shelf, and the far north is important in that work." She emphasises that big gaps exist in current knowledge about the geology off northern Norway and where oil and gas might be present.
Geological conditions suggest that petroleum resources are to be found in the far north, but this can only be confirmed by drilling.
So far only the Snøhvit gas field has been declared commercial in the Norwegian sector of the Barents Sea, with the Goliat oil discovery still under assessment.
While Mr Aarbakke believes that a commitment to oil and gas can drive commercial development in the far north, he sees the need for a varied economy to create local jobs and secure settlement.
"Although the petroleum business provides much employment in the development phase, production is not very labour-intensive. Other industries can provide more jobs."
His committee is accordingly looking at such sectors as agriculture, fishing, aquaculture and reindeer-herding in combination with tourism.
"These activities can yield many jobs and help to maintain the cultural landscape created by generations of human settlement," he says.
The committee is also working on proposed measures which could be backed by funds from Barents 2020, a long-term cross-sectoral commitment to far northern research and development.
This programme is intended to confirm Norway as the central administrator of knowledge and expertise in the far north.