Arctic drilling suit heads for court

UPDATED: Environmental organizations Greenpeace and Natur og Ungdom (Nature and Youth) have won a court date for Norway’s first climate case, aimed at halting oil drilling and production in the Norwegian Arctic. Their breakthrough comes just after three oil companies announced their discovery of large oil and gas deposits in the Barents Sea and the government’s latest promotion of other oil activity in the Arctic.

Those backing the legal challenge against Norway’s Arctic oil activity come from several organizations and include many Norwegian celebrities. PHOTO: KlimasøksmålArktis

AkerBP, Lundin and DEA reported this week that they have found the new oil deposits within the Filicudi prospect, located in the southern portions of the Barents Sea in the Norwegian Arctic. Oil companies involved in the project have estimated the size of the oil deposits at between 35 and 100 million barrels of oil equivalents. Both oil and gas were found, but they stressed their main extraction priority would be the oil. As reported by The Independent Barents Observer (external link) over the weekend, the Filicudi prospect is said to hold “many interesting opportunities.”

That’s good news not only for the oil companies but also for Oil Minister Terje Søviknes, who has adopted a bullish stance regarding the future of Norway’s oil industry and is actively promoting more oil exploration and production on the Norwegian Continental Shelf. Søviknes sees no conflict between Norway’s ongoing oil activity and his own government’s goals of cutting the carbon emissions that are generated by the oil industry and the fossil fuels it produces.

Environmental organizations and those concerned about climate change certainly see a conflict and are taking it to court. Their legal challenge to the Norwegian state’s promotion of the oil industry and oil activity in the Arctic will now begin in the Oslo City Court (Oslo Tingrett) on November 13. The case is expected to last up to two weeks, according to plaintiffs Greenpeace and Natur og Ungdom. They’re backed by several other individuals, Norwegian celebrities and organizations including Spire, Concerned Students Norway, Besteforeldrenes klimaaskjon (Grandparents’ Climate Action) and Concerned Artists Norway.

More Arctic oil activity ‘a tragedy for the climate’
“Opening up our most vulnerable areas of the Arctic for oil drilling is not just a tragedy for the climate but it’s also in direct conflict with the goals we have committed to through the UN’s Paris agreement and the enviromental paragraph of the Norwegian constitution,” Truls Gulowsen, leader of Greenpeace in Norway, stated in a press release.

Greenpeace notes that the UN has declared, through the Paris accord, that global warming must be limited to between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius in order to “avoid catastrophe and irreversible climate consequences.” Norway’s own constitution, meanwhile, declares that the state is responsible for protecting nature and the environment for future generations.

Ingrid Skjoldvær, leader of Natur og Ungdom, stated what “what the politicians call an ‘oil adventure’ in the north will in reality be a nightmare for us who will inherit the globe.” That’s why allowing more oil drilling in the Arctic “amounts to allowing the oil companies to destroy our common future,” Skjoldvær said. “That’s unacceptable.”

Among the first such suits worldwide
The plaintiffs also claim that even oil industry consulting firms and data from the IPCC contend that no new oil fields can be opened if the climate goals to which Norway has committed itself are to be met. The environmental organizations as plaintiffs have said they will call in a string of climate researchers and economists specializing in the social welfare state. They note that similar lawsuits are being filed around the world, while theirs in Norway is among the first to actually go to court.

The state will be represented by defense attorneys for the government. Given the government’s promotion of the oil industry, it’s unlikely any pre-trial out-of-court settlement will be reached. Government attorneys instead appear ready to defend the state against the lawsuit, which specifically calls for the state’s 23rd round of oil field licensing to be declared invalid. The state filed a 42-page response to the lawsuit in December, in which it declared the licensing round was indeed valid and based on “comprehensive professional, administrative and political processes” that also were conducted in compliance with both the constitution and applicable laws. The state also points out that a “broad majority” in Norway’s Parliament agrees on the “major lines” with Norwegian oil policy in the Barents Sea.

In addition to being one of the first lawsuits of its kind, the upcoming trial will also mark the first time that the Norwegian Constitution’s environmental paragraph will be tested in court. In a mock trial of the landmark lawsuit, held at a cultural event in Kirkenes last week, the people won, but one of the actor-law professors involved said he doubts that will influence the result of the actual trial later this year.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund