Oil industry offensive draws critics

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The former head of the Norwegian chapter of humanitarian organization “Save the Children” (Redd Barna) is now an oil industry lobbyist. Her recent appeal for more oil drilling, to help ensure the future for youth in Norway, has sparked widespread criticism and highlights the conflict between the country’s environmental activists and its greatest source of income.

Gro Brækken launched into her new job in the new year by telling new bureau ANB that “if we fail to view oil and gas as a solution, I think we’re doing disfavour to today’s youth.”

Brækken was a high-profile head of Redd Barna for several years but now has taken over as head of the oil industry group Oljeindustriens landsforening . She’s educated as a chemical engineer and is from the northern city of Narvik, and has emerged as a proponent of more oil exploration and drilling off the northern coast.

“Norway’s future as an oil and gas nation depends on new discoveries and increased production,” she told ANB.That’s set off protests from environmentalists and politicians firmly opposed to oil exploration off Norway’s coastline, especially around the scenic archipelago of Lofoten with its rich fishing grounds.

“It’s the children and youth who will suffer, while Brækken’s generation goes free,” claimed Ingeborg Gjærum of the youth environmental group Natur og Ungdom . “It’s also quite scary that the oil industry thinks it will take time to reduce its emissions.”

Gjærum said Brækken provoked the group by using children and youth to justify new oil exploration, adding that the Brækken “is on a collision course” with both the UN and the Norwegian government, which want to limit global warming to two degrees.

Torild Skogsholm, a former government minister from the Liberal Party (Venstre) , was also provoked by Brækken’s remarks. She later wrote a commentary in newspaper Dagsavisen , calling Brækken’s justification for drilling off Lofoten and Vesterålen “one of the most frightening I’ve heard for a long time.”

She said efforts to link oil drilling in one of Norway’s most fertile fishing areas to “the sake of the children” is both “incorrect and totally immoral.” Norway also lives off its fishing income, Skogsholm noted. “How in the world can we look the next generation in the eye and say it’s okay to gamble with other valuable resources in the area, like fish?”

Meanwhile, Norway’s Oil and Energy Ministry has identified areas in the Arctic where it thinks its safe to drill. State pollution authorities disagree, calling several areas in the Norwegian and Barents seas “vulnerable.”

Brækken isn’t afraid that she’ll be branded as going from “saving the children to destroying Lofoten,” and calls herself a “technology optimist.”

“Many have developed an image of oil and gas as something terrible. I don’t see it that way,” she told ANB. “As adults we have to take responsibility and show what’s possible to achieve. It’s possible to also solve the climate challenge, but it may take more time than the most impatient want.”