Norway bets on global warming in Arctic oil and gas drive
* Norway seeks drilling in Barents Sea that froze in 1980s
* Firms welcome first new areas in two decades, environmentalists opposed
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO, May 13 (Reuters) - Norway wants to let oil and gas companies drill in Arctic seas that were frozen as recently as the 1980s even though some climate experts say it is too early to trust global warming to keep the ice away.
Russia is also showing new interest in the Arctic despite high costs in a region where governments are struggling to set safety rules after BP's 2010 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.
Many companies, including ConocoPhillips and Idemitsu, are applauding a plan by Norway to open the South East Barents Sea - about 1,800 kms (1,100 miles) from the North Pole - to exploration as climate change thaws the Arctic.
"For Norway to continue to be a long-term reliable supplier of oil and gas it is important to explore for, and develop" expected large resources in the Barents, deputy oil and energy minister Kåre Fostervold told Reuters.
Environmentalists and some scientists say the South East Barents, the first new area opened off Norway since 1994, is risky even though it has been ice free year-round for a decade.
The state-funded Norwegian Polar Institute is advising the Conservative-led government against opening some blocks, saying sea ice smothered parts of the area in winter as recently as the 1980s and could strike back despite climate change. Continued...