New appeal to drop oil plans off Lofoten

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After a week of anti-oil demonstrations especially aimed at protecting Norway’s scenic regions of Lofoten, Vesterålen and Senja, both the Conservative- and Labour Party leaders are being urged to drop all plans for oil exploration and production in the area. The leaders of two smaller rival parties have teamed up in an effort to kill off plans for oil drilling in Lofoten’s waters once and for all.

Most residents of Lofoten also oppose oil activity in their area, with every municipality including the one here at Svolvær voting against development of oil fields offshore. Svolvær was the scene of more anti-oil demonstrations over the weekend by those who feel Norway’s biggest parties on both ends of the political spectrum are ignoring their interests. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Prime Minister Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservatives now running for re-election, and the Labour Party’s candidate for prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, have both refused to block plans for oil and gas activity off the coastal area known as LoVeSe. Both argue that oil and gas exploration and production are too important to Norway’s economy to ban them and the jobs they create.

Environmental and climate activists, along with the tourism and fishing industries, view oil and gas activity as a threat to both the area and its other important resources like seafood from Lofoten’s rich fishing grounds and the stunning scenery that attracts visitors from all over the world. They gathered in Lofoten this past week to consolidate their positions and rally to keep Lofoten oil-free.

Hundreds of people turned out for an anti-oil demonstration in the town of Svolvær on Lofoten Saturday after the week of meetings on the archipelago arranged by the environmental groups Naturvernforbundet and Natur og Ungdom. They were joined during the weekend by the leaders of the Liberal Party, Trine Skei Grande, and the Socialist Left Party, Audun Lysbakken.

‘Drop these oil plans for good’
“We have a common appeal to both Solberg and Støre: ‘Let those fishing off Lofoten and Vesterålen have some peace. Drop these oil plans for good,” Grande and Lysbakken wrote in their joint appeal. Grande’s party supports Solberg for prime minister while Lysbakken’s party supports Støre. Each party, if its demands are met, can potentially provide enough votes needed to give either Solberg or Støre the majority they’ll need to form a new government after the September 11 election.

SV, for example, managed to prevent Labour from moving forward with oil activity off Lofoten when it was part of the Labour-led government from 2005 to 2013. The Liberals managed to keep Solberg’s current minority conservative coalition from doing the same.

Now they’re buoyed by public opinion polls showing that growing numbers of Norwegians also want to restrict oil industry expansion. They’re arguing that the support for oil expansion within the Labour, Conservative and Progress parties defies the will of the people.

Appeal rejected
The Center Party, likely to team up with Labour again to form a new left-center government if they win enough votes, has waffled over the years but the Center Party’s former oil minister, Ola Borten Moe, is firmly in favour and now works in the oil business. Progress Party leader Siv Jensen said last week that she’s not paying much attention to the poll results against the oil industry until they show more of a trend.

Solberg’s health minister, Bent Høie, responded to the anti-oil demonstrators by saying that more than 200,000 jobs in Norway are tied to the oil business and that “the most important” factor in new job creation is the ability to open up new areas for oil exploration.

Støre also rejected the appeal from Grande and Lysbakken, claiming that his party had only approved oil activity in waters farthest from Lofoten. Neither Støre nor the Conservatives think the Liberals and Socialist Left should campaign by claiming they’ll block more oil expansion.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund