Moe’s new oil job splits party again

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Ola Borten Moe of the rural-oriented Center Party was known as “the oil industry’s dream” when he held the powerful post as Norway’s oil minister during the former left-center government. Moe was bullish on oil and is now going into the business himself, but many of his party fellows aren’t happy about that at all.

Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten from the otherwise environmentally oriented Center Party was in the northern city of Hammerfest on Monday when he announced plans to open up Norway's southeastern portion of the Barents Sea to oil and gas exploration and development. PHOTO: Olje- og energi departementet

Former Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe is shown here on a visit to the northern city of Hammerfest in 2013, when he announced plans to open up Norway’s southeastern portion of the Barents Sea to oil and gas exploration and development. Now he’s going into the oil business himself. PHOTO: Olje- og energi departementet

After several months out of the public spotlight, Moe was getting a lot of media attention again on Friday and sparking conflict within his party. He’d announced late Thursday that he and a top oil industry executive, Erik Haugane, were forming a new oil company along with two other partners to be called Okea AS.

They’re investing NOK 1 million each and are in the process of raising another NOK 1 billion in start-up capital, with the aim of getting shares in “the best” of relatively small oil fields (expected to produce up to 100 million barrels) that haven’t yet been developed. Haugane, a veteran oil industry entrepreneur, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) that Okea will specialize in “modern, reasonable and practical solutions” for getting profits of the fields that others haven’t. With the oil industry currently in a slump, because of the fall in oil prices, they also see opportunities to buy oil field stakes at lower prices. One analyst told DN it was “a buyer’s market” for oil and gas stakes.

Moe and Haugane have most recently worked together, since Moe’s party lost government power in the 2013 elections, at the state investment firm Siva. Haugane resigned as Siva’s chief executive in December and Moe, who otherwise has mostly been a farmer and career politician, turned in his resignation as Siva’s “director for innovation” on Thursday. Their new company, to be based in Trondheim, is expected to be up and running right after the summer holidays.

Self-confident as ever
Moe, known for supreme self-confidence that often angered environmental organizations, told reporters that he fully intends to continue in his post as a deputy leader of the Center Party. He sees no conflict with his new role as an owner and leader of an oil company. “My role in the Center Party won’t be affected by this,” he told DN and other media. “I’m deputy leader and we have always been pleased when folks start up their own things and operate on their own. This won’t have any consequences for my political activity.”

Others disagreed. While some wondered whether Moe’s million kroner investment in Okea has been made possible by any farming subsidies that augmented his farming income, several members of his own party are simply not comfortable with his new oil industry job. Steinulf Tungesvik, who earlier served as a state secretary in the transport ministry for the Center Party, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Friday that it was “obvious” that the party must now evaluate whether Moe can continue in his role as deputy leader.

“This can have consequences for the deputy leader’s role,” Tungesvik told NRK, directly contradicting Moe. “We have to discuss this.” Tungesvik claimed that the Center Party, best known for championing protection and state financial support for farmers, has “balanced” climate and oil policies, but that climate should be the priority.

Anne Beathe Tvinnerheim, who ran against Moe for the deputy leader role, noted that no one is prevented from working while holding an unpaid post in a political party, “but this will of course influence what he can and can’t comment or profile himself on.”

Stirring up new conflict
NRK reported that several others in the party were also skeptical of Moe’s new oil industry venture, not least when the Center Party has tried to put forth an environmentally and climate-friendly image. Moe’s bullishness on the oil industry also caused conflicts within the environmentally oriented wing of the party when he was oil minister. On Friday, party members were muttering about Moe’s “special role blending” and that his new job poses “challenges.” The head of the Center Party’s youth organization was disappointed.

“I wish he’d started a windmill farm instead, or a solar energy company,” Erling Laugsand of Senterungdommen told NRK. “But the fact it’s an oil venture didn’t come as a total shock.”

Moe claims he never thought about going into the business himself while he was oil minister, nor does he see any conflicts of interest now. He certainly knows a lot about how licensing rounds work, and about the inner workings of the oil and energy ministry. That can be a decided advantage over other industry players, but Moe pointed out that “it’s been two years since I was oil minister.” He clearly feels any quarantine period should be over.

Center Party leader Trygve Slavsvold Vedum, who has been credited for restoring harmony within the party after serious clashes between Moe and Vedum’s predecessor Liv Signe Navarsete, once again found himself trying to smooth over the internal conflict that Moe was sparking. “We have many entrepreneurs in the party, and now Ola is trying to be one, too,” Vedum told NRK. “The party is keen on creating business in Norway based on our natural resources. When Ola now tries to do this, I wish him good luck.” Tungesvik, however, will press to bring Moe’s new venture up for discussion among the party’s central board members.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund