Oil minister backs down on Lofoten

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Oil Minister Tord Lien has abruptly reversed his promotion of oil drilling off Lofoten, informing oil companies that he won’t be seeking their recommendations for new exploration areas after all. Fierce opponents of oil drilling off the scenic area were relieved.

had some explaining to do, after opening up 24th licensing round amidst climate protests

Both Prime Minister Erna Solberg and Oil Minister Tord Lien had urged oil companies to recommend areas for oil drilling off Lofoten, setting off cries of protests from climate and environmental activists. Now they’re backed down. PHOTO: ONS/Anne Lise Norheim

“This was wise of them,” said Trine Skei Grande, leader of one of the minority coalition government’s two support parties in Parliament, the Liberals. Both the Liberals and the Christian Democrats firmly oppose any plans for oil exploration and production off Lofoten. If Lien’s Progress Party and Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s Conservatives had gone ahead with plans to open up waters off Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja to oil exploration, their cooperation agreement with their two support parties would have been broken.

Both Lien and Solberg had earlier urged oil companies to submit their recommendations for attractive exploration areas in the Norwegian and Barents seas. Both also caught massive criticism for any calls for oil exploration nominations.

Now Lien has reversed the call, writing in a letter to oil companies on Thursday that he doesn’t want to receive any nominations for blocs other than what the government itself has decided to release in a 24th licensing round next spring.

Lien said he wanted to avoid speculation about additional areas of the Norwegian Continental Shelf being opened up for oil and gas activity. The proposal had added to the pressure already on the scenic areas of Norway’s northern coast that already are inundated by tourists.

Truls Gulowsen, leader of Norway’s chapter of Greenpeace, said Lien’s reversal proves that massive protests function well. The protests had indeed been flying. While the 24th licensing round itself was seen as a provocation, Lien’s bullishness on the waters of Lofoten was called a “declaration of war” by other environmental organizations.

Bellona leader Frederic Hauge, who has been among the outspoken opponents of Lofoten drilling, told state broadcaster he was glad the government “had come to its senses. These blocs should never have been mentioned at all, but it’s good the government is backing down.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund