"These areas are very vulnerable and important for
seabirds and sea mammals like polar bears and walruses," Environment
Minister Boerge Brende said of the new conservation area for the
Svalbard islands, 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from the North Pole.
government said it was extending the marine protection zone around
Svalbard to 12 nautical miles from four, adding an area of 41,000
square km (15,830 sq mile) - the size of the Netherlands or Switzerland.
Monday, the government decided to lift a two-year ban on oil and gas
drilling in the Arctic Barents Sea but shielded the scenic Lofoten
islands south of Svalbard after pressure from environmentalists and the
"This is a double Christmas present for
everyone who cares about the environment," said conservation
organisation WWF's Arctic Programme head Samantha Smith of the Svalbard
and Lofoten decisions.
"We hope this is a precedent for other areas in the Barents Sea under threat from oil and gas development," she said.
is the world's third biggest oil exporter behind Saudi Arabia and
Russia, pumping about three million barrels per day. But finds in the
North Sea are drying up, pushing oil companies to seek new Arctic areas.
is a coal mining centre and some oil companies reckon it could offer
interesting prospects. In September, the government set aside about
4,500 sq kms of the land on Svalbard as a conservation park.