Even though Norway’s government has turned down proposals for new oil drilling off scenic Lofoten and Vesterålen during its new four-year term, the oil industry isn’t giving up and is eyeing possibilities to start activity anyway. StatoilHydro, Norway’s biggest company, doesn’t seem to be taking “no” for an answer.
Two of the three parties making up Norway’s left-center government are dead-set against oil and gas activity off Lofoten and Vesterålen. Both the Socialist Left (SV) and the Center Party (Sp) base their opposition on concern for the environment and the area’s important fishing industry.
The dominant Labour Party, however, has so far been non-committal and has a long record of supporting industry and job creation. The compromise so far has involved putting the hotly debated issue on the back burner until a report studying the consequences of oil exploration off Lofoten comes out late next year. Since it will need to be discussed and debated, Labour, SV and Sp have said there will be no new oil activity off northern Norway during the new four-year parliamentary session.The issue, however, dominated an annual oil industry conference this fall and StatoilHydro is launching a new lobbying effort led by a woman who has been a state secretary for Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg and his chief of staff, now minister for the prime minister’s office, Karl-Eirik Schjøtt-Pedersen.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reports that Hege Marie Norheim officially leads what StatoilHydro calls its “company initiative for the northern areas” and that also gives her a direct line to StatoilHydro CEO Helge Lund. PR firm Gambit is also engaged to work with Norheim’s group.
Norheim says her group “will contribute what we have of knowledge of the northern areas towards management, opinion and politicians.” She said the group will be StatoilHydro’s voice in the public debate. That voice, quiet during the recent election campaign, is about to be raised.
She also thinks the government has put off oil activity during the next four years simply because there won’t be time to initiate any. “We don’t agree,” Norheim told DN. “The study of consequences can be shorter, and parts of the area could be opened up.”
Opponents on the defense already
Environmental groups will likely be following Norheim’s group closely, ready to counter its arguments. They already are upset about new reports from StatoilHydro that the area off Lofoten could contain as many as 3 billion barrels of oil.
The oil industry’s chief lobbyist, Per Terje Vold, goes even farther, claiming there may be 3.4 billion barrels of oil out there, ready to meet world energy demands.
Lars Haltbrekken of Norway’s Friends of the Earth chapter (Naturvernforbundet) isn’t impressed. “The last thing the globe needs is even more CO2 emissions (that would come from its extraction),” he told DN.
SV’s energy spokesperson, meanwhile, said its opinion won’t be swayed by how much oil may be out there. He said both international and local considerations still point to an “absolute no” to exploration and drilling in the area.