Oil minister feels some heat

Bookmark and Share

Norway’s Oil & Energy Minister Terje Søviknes may well be looking forward to some time off during the Christmas holidays. In the past few months he’s been under pressure on a variety of fronts, not long after a fall that left him on crutches.

Oil & Energy Minister Terje Søviknes has had a challegning autumn. PHOTO: OED

It hasn’t been the best of times for Søviknes, whose Progress Party has also landed in trouble, not least over its unpopular attempt to win a seat on the Norwegian Nobel Committee for a controversial former party leader.

Last summer, Søviknes fell while dancing on a rain-slick outdoor terrace, breaking an ankle that landed him in the hospital. That was followed by several weeks hobbling around on crutches, in the midst of the parliamentary election campaign.

He’s also a target of criticism for his relentless promotion of the oil industry and his efforts to expand it mightily into the Arctic. The critics don’t buy his arguments that Norway can continue to pump up oil and keep drilling in Arctic waters, and cut carbon emissions at the same time.

Søviknes caught lots more flak on Tuesday from the environmental lobby, after Statoil announced plans to develop its Johan Castberg oil field in the Barents Sea. He did not endear himself to climate activists when he also proudly announced 11 bidders for more exploration licenses in the Barents and Norwegian seas.

Last week he also sang the praises of Norway’s oil at an annual conference hosted by Statoil, claiming from the podium that Norwegian oil production would continue for many more decades despite all the concerns over fossil fuels. That sparked more criticism and even ridicule from newspaper commentator Kjetil B Alstadheim in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN), who noted that the conference was being held at the same theater that’s currently drawing sell-out crowds for its version of thehit play The Book of Mormon. Alstadheim dubbed Søviknes’ performance as “The Book of More Oil.”

Søviknes has also been blasted over the ongoing problems and cost overruns at Norway’s deeply troubled Goliat oil field in the Arctic, and landed in the middle of debate over whether Goliat will ever be profitable. He had failed to consult Norway’s own Oil Directorate, which indicated as early as 2015 that it would be unprofitable. Søviknes insists it will be, over time.

Then the international campaign against sexual harassment spread to Norway as well, and it didn’t take long before Søviknes’ alleged sexual assault on an intoxicated 16-year-old girl at a national meeting of his party’s youth organization came up in the media again. Søviknes, who was married at the time, apologized publicly and was forced to resign as the Progress Party’s deputy leader, but made a national political comeback several years later.

“Terje Søviknes did something that was very, very wrong, completely the opposite of what I consider good behaviour,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) in late November. “I’ll never excuse what he did. At the same time folks should get a new chance. That’s an important principle.”

Just before the weekend, newspaper Dagsavisen also reported that Søviknes failed to publicly declare 8,000 shares he owned in a real estate investment firm. All members of the government and the Parliament are required to disclose financial holdings and any positions of authority they hold in a state register.

Søviknes apologized but said he had viewed his stake in the firm as an investment in a fund and thereby not covered by the share disclosure rule. “That was a mistake and I apologize for it,” Søviknes told Dagsavisen after it raised questions about his financial holdings.

Søviknes, who was mayor of Os outside Bergen from 1999 to 2016, was appointed oil minister in January of last year in the Conservatives-led government that rules with the Progress Party.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund