Oil Minister takes a stand

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Oil Minister Terje Riis-Johansen has taken a stand on oil exploration off Norway’s northern coast, and aims to avoid a government crisis at the same time.

Terje Riis-Johansen doesn't think oil drilling will bring down the government. PHOTO: Regjeringen.no/Torbjørn Tandberg

Riis-Johansen formally accepted a report from the country’s oil directorate last week that around NOK 500 billion worth of untapped oil and gas lies in the seabed off the coast of Lofoten and Vesterålen. That’s not as much as oil companies had expected, but enough to make them want to launch into exploration and drilling mode.

Another report by geologists delivered on Thursday claimed that even a minor oil spill would have serious environmental consequences in the area, which not only is a scenic tourist destination but also home to rich and historic fishing grounds. The risk of such a “petroleum accident,” however, was said to be low.

Riis-Johansen hails from the Center Party, one of the two small parties making up Norway’s three-party Labour-dominated coalition. His party has gone on record opposing oil exploration off Lofoten but Riis-Johansen, under heavy pressure from Norway’s offshore industry, hadn’t taken a personal stand himself.

Now he has, confirming that he feels obligated to follow his party line. He won’t support any more reports that would explore the consequences of oil exploration off the northern coast. He told newspaper Dagsavisen that he “I am in this job to forward the Center Party’s politics.”

At the same time, Riis-Johansen told Dagsavisen that he feels confident the coalition government will “find a good solution” to the heated issue of oil exploration off Lofoten. Some politicical observers have speculated that Labour’s traditional desire to create jobs will put it at odds with both the Center Party and the Socialist Left (SV), and that may even lead to the government’s downfall.

Riis-Johansen doesn’t think so. He notes that the coalition has “proven earlier” that it can iron out its differences “and in this case, the desire is there.” He said he doesn’t think the offshore issue will lead to a government crisis.

Dagsavisen has reported earlier that Labour ultimately will be willing to placate its government partners and won’t force exploration. SV says the new reports throw cold water on industry claims that the untapped reserves are large enough to risk drilling in the area.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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