Critics blast ‘moon landing’ delay

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The government’s decision to delay its so-called “moon landing” project — expensive carbon recapture at Statoil’s Mongstad power plant — has set off a wave of criticism. Norway’s credibility as an environmentally conscious nation is at stake, they claim.

Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg is under fire over his delayed carbon recapture program. PHOTO: LO Media

A former environmental minister in Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s earlier government is among those harshly criticizing her former boss and colleagues for delaying the carbon recapture project at Mongstad plant. “This is very unfortunate and very sad,” Helen Bjørnøy, cabinet minister from 2005 to 2007, told newspaper Aftenposten. “I wish the government had stuck to its original plan.”

Bjørnøy noted that Stoltenberg, who first equated the project to a “moon landing,” has boasted of it internationally. His oil and energy minister, Terje Riis-Johansen, took his US counterpart Stephen Chu to Mongstad in December, and the government has used its carbon recapture plans as a means of portraying Norway as a country serious about helping reverse climate change despite its large oil industry.

Now it’s all been put off, probably for at least four years and some critics wonder whether the carbon capture and storage facility will ever be built. “When we reduce our ambitions, we also reduce our credibility,” Bjørnøy said. 

Some wonder whether Statoil's carbon capture project at Mongstad will ever by finished. PHOTO: Statoil/Marit Hommedal

‘Not a priority’
Bjørnøy noted that “there’s no denying that forces in the oil industry don’t have carbon recapture as a high priority,” suggesting that Statoil officials who resisted the expensive project to cut carbon emissions have now gotten their way. The plant likely won’t be ready to start recapturing carbon until at least 2018.

Stoltenberg defends the postponement, but has been called into Parliament to explain why. Some critics think the project’s biggest proponent within the government, the Socialist Left party (SV), should leave the government over the delay, but Bjørnøy disagrees. “If SV leaves the government, (prospects for Mongstad) will only get worse,” she said.

The technical experts in charge at Mongstad wish Stoltenberg had never called the project a “moon landing.” They claim the project is even more complicated and expensive than first thought and it’s better to take more time to get it right than to be hasty.

Health concerns
Newspaper Dagsavisen reported that the delay was also caused by health concerns. Carbon recapture can release other emissions of some cancer-causing agents, and local schools and day care centers need to be protected. Critics, though, suspect the project’s high costs were the deciding factor.

Stoltenberg maintains the project will still be the biggest of its kind and shows that his government “has begun a massive investment in carbon capture technology.” His ambitions, he said, remain high.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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